Does spending $500 a week for a room in a four-bedroom shared apartment sound like a good deal?

That’s the reality faced by many newly arrived international students in Melbourne if they choose to live in student housing.

International students have been often blamed for the rental crisis, but new research found they only accounted for 4 per cent of the market.

Next year, the government is planning to limit the number of international students to help with sustainable sector growth and ease housing demand.

If universities want to exceed the caps, they will have to provide new purpose-built accommodation.

But international students say building more student accommodation won’t help much with housing pressure as concerns over their price and quality are already turning students away from the option.

$500 for a small studio

International students have been blamed for adding pressure to the rental market.(ABC News: Lucas Hill)

May Zhang is a teacher and a recent graduate from the University of Melbourne who lived in university accommodation until last year.

She said she paid $500 per week for a small studio room that she moved into during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My parents thought living on campus was better for safety concerns,” she explained.

But she said it wasn’t a good deal and she didn’t see many local students living there.

“It was basically all international students,” Ms Zhang said.

“The good thing is that they held cultural activities and parties from time to time.

“But still, it’s very expensive. With the same price, I could have lived in a much bigger apartment in the Melbourne CBD.”

May Zhang lived in a small studio at the University of Melbourne.(Supplied)

The price has shot up since Ms Zhang left.

Rent for the same type of studio is now $592 per week, which includes utilities and wi-fi, according to the University of Melbourne’s website.

To rent a room in a four-bedroom, four-bathroom apartment in the same building costs between $493 and $503.

According to, the median rental price for a one-bedroom apartment in the nearby suburb of Parkville is $420.

Some universities also offer “college” style accommodation that includes meals and generally comes with a more expensive price tag.

‘Students may not be able to afford it’

There are various forms of student accommodation.(Reuters)

Ms Zhang said she believed the new requirement for universities to provide more accommodation was “going to be really big trouble”.

“There are many conflicting elements. Even if the university manages to provide accommodation to the students — students may not be able to afford it,” she said.

“Asking the universities to solve the housing issues may not be a good idea. Being able to choose where to live is the best for the students.”

A University of Melbourne spokesperson said they “continue to warmly welcome international students” but didn’t explain why student housing was so expensive compared to other rentals.

“The university has concerns with the proposed cap on international students,” the spokesperson said.

‘Insane’ cost of rent

Apart from student housing provided by universities, there are also student accommodation services provided by commercial companies such as Yugo.

University of Adelaide student Patricia Marcella, from Indonesia, lived in a four-bedroom shared apartment in one of Yugo’s properties in Adelaide’s CBD for two years.

When she first moved in, her rent was $250 a week but it later rose to $270 a week before jumping to $350 a week.

Ms Marcella says the new price was “insane”, so she moved out and now lives with friends.

Though student apartments are often in a prime location only a few minutes’ walk to campus, Ms Marcella said in her experience living in them was not worth it.

She wasn’t happy about the air circulation and lack of cleaning, and said students often had to pay to get things fixed.

The ABC contacted Yugo but it declined to comment on the complaints.

Ms Marcella also doesn’t think the newly announced strategy is going to work.

“It keeps getting more and more expensive to live there,” she said.

Rooms different from pictures in ads

Another International student, Eva Zhang, also lived in commercial student housing for two years, in Melbourne.

“It’s convenient, but I would only recommend it to someone who can’t be bothered househunting,” she said.

Ms Zhang said most international students she knew moved out of student housing after a little while.

“It’s just too expensive,” she said.

Like Ms Marcella, Ms Zhang believes her accommodation was overpriced.

Ms Zhang said the room she ended up living in looked completely different to the photos she was sent.

The room Ms Zhang rented in student housing cost about the same as her current shared apartment.

But Ms Zhang said the room in the student accommodation was only 7 square metres, with hardly any natural lighting.

Yeganeh Soltanpour wants universities to be clearer about the costs of accommodation and what the money is spent on.(Supplied)

Yeganeh Soltanpour, president of Council of International Students Australia, said the expense and quality of student housing was concerning.

Ms Soltanpour said universities needed to increase transparency around costs and how the fees being paid by the students were being spent.

“Students should know what they are paying for and see tangible improvements in their living conditions,” she said.

“Universities need to recognise that high-quality, affordable accommodation is integral to the overall student experience and can significantly influence students’ academic success and wellbeing.”

Additional reporting by Raffa Athallah