Did you know there are are over 1 million students enrolled at Australian universities and of these, more than 600,000 are international students? In fact, Australian universities are recognised as being a key contributor to the nation’s economic prosperity. As such, it makes sense that there is a strong focus on international recruitment across the higher education network. But unlike the tourism industry which provides all the tools for a seamless journey for our 7 million international visitors per year, the international student market is undermined by one serious issue: the student accommodation shortage.
‘A very serious question that affects the student’s life, experience and studies’
A former international student from Colombia, Ricardo Gutierrez, told Dynamic Business:
“There is always a strong focus on recruiting students for their studies, but where are they going to live while they study? To me this is a very serious question that affects the student’s life, experience and studies.”
Ricardo came to Australia in 1999 to study a Master’s degree at The University of Sydney. After a stressful period of intense research to no avail, Ricardo’s living experience didn’t extend beyond campus. 17 Years later and having spent a number of years working as a communications manager the university’s International Offices, Ricardo says he’s “saddened and shocked that many students are still having the same experience after arriving in the country.”
In 2015 it was reported that Australia had a student bed shortage in the hundreds of thousands across Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Ricardo said: “I don’t think the problem is unique to Australia.
“Student accommodation shortages are an increasing topic of discussion in the industry world-wide.
“In Australia the issue is magnified because the cities are very expensive and the education institutions tend to be in areas where rents are high.”
‘Airbnb was certainly an inspiration. It’s a prime example of how the world now wants to operate’
While the dilemma has remained unchanged for students entering Australia 17 years after Ricardo’s experience, there’s one thing that has changed considerably: technology, and our acceptance of the digital age. This opened the door for Ricardo’s venture, Bedssi, which launched only two weeks ago.
“Airbnb was certainly an inspiration. It’s a prime example of how the world now wants to operate – collaborative, straightforward, online and effective,” he said.
Bedssi is an online portal that aims to open the door of many spare rooms across the country by collating possible housing options in one central location. Aimed at medium to long-term stays, Bedssi enables homeowners to advertise their unused spaces to the benefit of students looking for affordable housing options before they arrive in Australia.
“Bedssi wants to provide an easy way for every student to compare all the options available and book what is suitable for them. We are talking about tens of thousands of students in Australia alone who currently have to visit website after website to try and find out what is out there for them,” said Ricardo.
‘Bedssi will help resolve some “concerning and really frightening issues”’
Ricardo believes that Bedssi will help resolve some “concerning and really frightening issues” brought by the student bed shortage. He comments that in some situations, hosts are taking advantage of the situation by forcing large groups of students to share single rooms with inadequate bathroom facilities:
“A recent investigation in Sydney found students living in shipping containers,” said Ricardo.
Then of course, there’s the notorious issue of student debts which are largely inflated by rental prices:
“Many international students, before leaving their home country, are selling their houses and all their valuables to come and fulfil their dreams of studying in Australia,” he said.
New to the student accommodation market, Ricardo said that the priority now is to let people know that Bedssi is an option available, not just to students, but to potential hosts. Described as a win-win scenario, Ricardo says Bedssi offers an alternative for hosts who find the high turnover of travellers too burdensome to manage.
“The cycle between traveller and traveller is so short it becomes a lot of work for them. We could be a solution to that problem,” said Ricardo.
“Students tend to be good, respectful tenants. They are associated to education institutions and are connected to specific visas.”
Social media and online campaigns will be crucial to their communication strategy going forward. Bootstrapped from the start, the business will also be to looking for investors over the coming months to enable Bedssi to keep up with larger scale growth.
“There are lots of exciting ideas and plans,” he said.
With a new app already in the pipeline, Ricardo says the ongoing strategy will be to “turn the Accommodation industry upside down!”