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Optimising Tertiary Student Accommodation within University Neighbourhoods

Nnenna Ike, Claudia Baldwin and Athena Lathouras


Tertiary students’ activities within neighbourhoods adjacent to universities engender positive and negative impacts that have consequences for neighbourhood sustainability. This might lead to studentification, a process that triggers physical, economic and socio-cultural transformation of university towns. Where non-student residents perceive negative impacts, it can lead to conflict and resentment towards the student population, mistrust between student and local resident groups and a decrease in social capital.

This paper uses a case study of two neighbourhoods adjacent to a university in Australia to explore ways to integrate students within university neighbourhoods to ensure those communities remain cohesive and sustainable. Focus groups of local residents were held to elicit data and answer the research questions. We refer to social capital and community development theories of social contact and dialogue, to identify how already studentified neighbourhoods or neighbourhoods, which have not dealt with an influx of ‘others’, might apply these theories to become more sustainable.

Our unique contribution suggests the use of urban planning policy approaches, including careful dispersion of purpose-built-student-accommodation (PBSA) and registration/licencing of operators of shared housing/ house(s)-in-multiple-occupation (HMOs), to optimally integrate students within university neighbourhoods and mitigate the deleterious effects of studentification.

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The authors would like to thank Dr. Bridie Scott-Parker, University of the Sunshine Coast for her constructive feedback regarding an earlier version of the manuscript.


1Tertiary students are becoming more mobile in their study choices and it is now commonplace for students to go to universities outside their region, home state, or even country. As such they require a place to live while they carry out their studies (Rowley and Constable 2014). However, Ackermann and Visser (2016) argue that increased student enrolment has outpaced the amount of accommodation available to students in institutions of higher learning. Accordingly, small-scale institutional actors (including private developers and landlords) respond by providing accommodation for students within neighbourhoods adjacent to universities (hereafter referred to as ‘university neighbourhoods’), frequently leading to conflict between students and long-term local residents (McDonald et al. 2015). In these instances, according to Hatch et al. (2016: 5), local residents see students as “nothing more than a nuisance, who create countless issues due to their immaturity and social ineptitude. Equally, some students may think of their neighbours, if they think of them at all, as mawkish and dour authority figures”. Ensuing conflict between both groups results in out-migration of long-term residents, referred to as ‘family-flight’; that is, the tendency of established families to move out of the neighbourhood or discourage potential non-student residents who otherwise would buy or rent properties from moving to those neighbourhoods (Hatch et al. 2016, Sage et al. 2013). This impacts on the sustainability of those neighbourhoods. Urban planning has a role to play to ensure that communities remain sustainable and prioritise human wellbeing, safety and equity among residents (Osborne et al. 2016). Hence, this paper draws on an Australian case study to identify current issues and possible ways to improve relations between students and local residents. Further, it suggests planning and community development measures to purposefully integrate students within university neighbourhoods thus ensuring those communities remain sustainable.

2Next, we define two key concepts used in this study: ‘sustainable neighbourhoods’ and ‘studentification’ as a base to understanding why it is essential that university neighbourhoods are sustainable.

Sustainable Neighbourhoods

3We use the following UK definition (National HMO Lobby 2008: 5) to define sustainable neighbourhoods within the context of this paper:

4Places where people want to live and work, now and in the future. They meet the diverse needs of existing and future residents, are sensitive to their environment, and contribute to a high quality of life. They are safe and inclusive, well planned, built and run, and offer equality of opportunity and good services for all.

5As such, a sustainable neighbourhood represents a place where people form ties, develop relations, and establish trust. However, university neighbourhoods with high student population are vulnerable to being unsustainable based on perceived students’ lifestyles, cultural and residential predispositions (Sage et al. 2012). As temporary migrants living in the neighbourhood for only 3-4years, they are not invested in the community, and also, usually return to their parents’ home or elsewhere for work at the end of semester causing seasonal depopulation during academic vacations.


6Studentification is a term ubiquitously applied to describe the impacts or transformations brought about by relatively high numbers of university students migrating into established residential neighbourhoods within university localities (Smith 2002, 2005). This phenomenon was recognised as a contentious social issue in the early 2000s and most of the scholarship on its impact and processes comes from the UK (see Anderson 2013, Munro and Livingston 2012, Munro et al. 2009, Sage et al. 2012, Smith and Holt 2007, Smith and Hubbard 2014, Universities UK 2006); United States (Hatch et al. 2016, Pickren 2012); Spain (Garmendia et al. 2012); and South Africa (Ackermann and Visser 2016). Conceptually, Smith (2005: 74) identifies studentification as a process that triggers “distinct social, cultural, economic and physical transformations within university towns”. These aspects of studentification are discussed in depth further on.

7Associated with studentified neighbourhood are services oriented to cater to the lifestyle of the young demographic (e.g. pubs, gym), closure of schools and other family-oriented public services due to falling demand (as local residents move out from the neighbourhood) and growing concern about the long-term sustainability of a neighbourhood of transient populations (Sage et al. 2012). Studentified neighbourhoods and their impacts are inconsistent with the concept of sustainable communities that aim to be inclusive, demographically-balanced and provide equal access to goods and service for members.

8Whilst it has long been considered that institutions of higher education have important responsibilities in responding to housing needs and may be better poised to provide solutions that are attractive to their students” (Hatch et al. 2016: 16), Smith (2008) suggests that the means and manner of how students are accommodated has moved beyond education and is now being considered in respect of community cohesion.

9Below, we introduce three forms of accommodation: purpose-built-student-accommodation (PBSA), house-in-multiple-occupancy (HMOs), and Homestay accommodation that students studying in Australia’s universities might access (outside of living at home). Statistics show Australian tertiary students tend to study close to home and continue to live with their parents (37 percent) or a partner (27 percent) for the duration of their studies (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2013, Hobsons 2014). Less than 6 percent access PBSA (Ike et al. 2016, Earp 2010, Universities Australia 2014). We highlight benefits and disadvantages of each type of accommodation and discuss how a large proportion of students accommodated within university neighbourhoods trigger aspects of studentification.

Purpose-built-student-accommodation (PBSA)

10PBSAs are inclusionary student-only accommodation where students have their own private rooms but share communal facilities such as the bathroom, kitchen or dining halls and living room (Paltridge et al. 2010, Susilawati 2001). One benefit of PBSA to students is the pastoral support (living-learning programs such as mentoring and buddy systems and sports) provided in many PBSAs and opportunity to form friendships with fellow students. In addition, services such as on-site parking, housekeeping, laundry facilities, internet access, and convenience stores are usually provided within the accommodation complex or close by (Ackermann and Visser 2016). Some scholars take a negative appraisal of PBSAs. For example, Smith and Hubbard (2014: 93) criticise PBSAs as “perpetuating the segregation of students from other social groups”. Other scholars refer to PBSA as isolating students from the community and encouraging a social divide within the broader community (Fincher and Shaw 2009, Hubbard 2009). This has implications for community cohesion and identity given that it does inhibits students and local residents from interacting or acting as a neighbourhood unit (National HMO Lobby 2008).

House-in-multiple-occupancy (HMOs)

11Not all students can be accommodated or wish to live in PBSAs (Ike et al. 2016). Increases in student enrolment and limited availability of on-campus housing push more students to live off-campus in university neighbourhoods alongside established residents (Hatch et al. 2016, La Roche et al. 2010). In response to students’ housing demands, property owners and developers often convert single-family houses into HMOs, which are “more profitable [to landlords] when rented by room” (Garmendia et al. 2012: 2653). Broadly, HMOs are characterised by four distinctive features: (i) an intensive occupancy deemed to be twice that of an ordinary dwelling house; (ii) a narrow age range of persons that are usually young and single, unrelated individuals co-residing in shared converted single-family dwellings; (iii) a type of occupancy that is temporary in nature and of a short-term duration usually between six to twelve months; and (iv) lacking internal governance as obtainable in a single household due to the multiplicity of its occupation (Ackermann and Visser 2016; National HMO Lobby 2008, Sage et al. 2012).

12Some of the benefits to students who access this form of accommodation include: the flexibility to choose a room or flat mates and location (Hazel et al. 2002); reduction in housing costs due to rent sharing amongst the residents (Obeng-Odoom 2012); and capacity for socio-cultural expression and psychological security (especially for international students who may prefer to live with those with whom they share a similar ethnic or cultural background).

13However, studies also show that students living in HMOs are more likely to compromise on housing quality and suitability such as damp interiors, poor natural lighting, and smaller living spaces (Burke et al. 2002, Burke, Pinnegar, Phibbs, Neske, Gabriel, Ralston, and Ruming 2007), and pay for costs of repairs (electrical, plumbing) for which they are not legally responsible (Thomsen and Eikemo 2010). They may not be aware of their rights and therefore are subject to illegal eviction, unlawful entry and invasion of their privacy, and illegal alteration of the physical buildings to create more rental units (Obeng-Odoom 2012, Thomsen and Eikemo 2010). They may also need to comply with unfamiliar tenancy responsibilities; increase in rent; lack of tenancy contract; lack of receipts for the payments made; lack of bond refund; and even being victim of internet fraud for payment on a rental which does not exist (Obeng-Odoom 2012).

14For students who cannot access or wish to live in PBSA and/or are not confident to enter the rental market, homestay arrangements or living in a family home (home sharing) are alternative options under the private rental market.

Home stay

15Homestay accommodation is an arrangement where a student lives with a host family which is not their natural family as opposed to acquiring a rental contract themselves (Akbar, Van Bael, Hassan and Baguley 2005, Richardson 2003). Particularly targeted at international students, the homestay option creates an opportunity for fostering intercultural relations, an opportunity for the student to learn and practise their host country’s language, and adjust to the culture and life of their new country or location. While homestay may be an effective transition process for international students or young students leaving home for the first time, issues encountered by students might include lack of privacy and personal space, food preference and taste, communication barriers, and difference in social and cultural values and personal belief systems (Richardson 2003). Some students in the Homestay program have reported being drawn into fights and arguments between the home-owners and family members which becomes a traumatising experience for students (Akbar et al. 2005).

16Irrespective of the form of accommodation students might access, studentification of university neighbourhoods can lead to unintentional economic, physical, social and cultural changes based on students’ activities in the neighbourhood (Anderson 2013, Hubbard 2008, Knight 2011, Pickren 2012, Rugg et al. 2002, Smith 2008, 2009).

Aspects of studentification.

17Studentification serves as a threat to university neighbourhoods across four aspects: economic, physical, social and cultural (Smith, 2002a, 2005, 2008; Smith & Hubbard, 2014).


18Studies show that large numbers of students concentrated in a locale provide both positive and negative economic impacts on local communities. For example, a study of student accommodation and gentrification in Melbourne, Australia, found that students are capable of causing shifts in neighbourhood housing as a result of their activities within the private rental housing market (Fincher and Shaw 2009). Great numbers of students occupying particular neighbourhoods in large densities can cause a surge in the property value of the area and an upward increase in rental price (driven by student demand) which soon becomes higher than the local residents can afford (Black 2002, Macintyre 2003, Sage et al. 2012, Smith 2008). Thus the student population displaces the existing local population (Doucet et al. 2011). A rising concentration of students in particular neighbourhoods or streets act as a strong inducement to landlords of non-student properties to take advantage of a lucrative sale or rent to private students (Universities UK 2006). Although individual students may not be affluent enough to afford the total property rent, the combined purchasing power of four or five students sharing a household makes it possible (Munro and Livingston 2012).

19The economic viability of businesses in university towns can also be affected when students leave during holidays (Ackermann and Visser 2016). Thus the view is that students are (1) transient populations (moving annually or leaving after three years); (2) a seasonal population (residents for two-thirds of the year) and (3) a young demographic (late teens, early twenties) who create a ‘resort’ economy and thus, hamper the economic viability of the communities (National HMO Lobby 2008). On the other hand, it is important to consider that local businesses can benefit from studentification. A large student population in university neighbourhoods or towns provide a positive economic stimulus as a result of the money students spend on food, accommodation, leisure and travel in that region (Anderson 2013).


20Physical deterioration of a neighbourhood has also been associated with studentification. Some studies link student population to the deteriorated condition of the neighbourhood, caused by neglect, noise, pollution, blight, filth, low security and surveillance and increase in off-street parking (Ackermann and Visser 2016, Hubbard 2008). One implication of deterioration in the visual quality of the street and fear of social vices in such neighbourhoods is that it discourages other prospective renters or buyers from buying or renting in those neighbourhoods (Macintyre 2003). There is also loss in economic value of properties due to health and safety concerns of the neighbourhood. Nonetheless, it is unreasonable to attribute blame for the physical deterioration of studentified neighbourhoods solely to the students without attributing some responsibility to landlords who fail to maintain or monitor rented properties (Hubbard 2008, Smith 2008).

21Despite the negative bias against students, Hatch et al. (2016: 15) state that,

22Many student-rented homes are not homes that permanent residents would necessarily want anyways. Some homes are not appealing, family-friendly homes, but are ones that only really appeal to students.

23Hatch et al.’s (2016) point is salient as issues such as the quality of housing do not fall within the responsibility of the student-renter.


24Rugg et al. (2002) argue that one of the most recognisable aspects of studentification relates to students’ socio-cultural activities leading to the erosion of a stable and cohesive residential population. Such activities might include influx of fast food restaurants, cafeterias, local pubs and clubs, students’ expressive lifestyles (parties, music) and consumption practices. In this instance, a shift from family-oriented facilities to activities re-oriented to the student and youth market means that residents living in close proximity to students are more likely to report alcohol-related disturbances (littering, noise, vomiting and public urination). This situation is further exacerbated when the students live in close proximity to residents who are at retirement age and prefer a quiet lifestyle rather than the noise and midnight parties often associated with students (Hubbard 2008, Sage et al. 2012). One can also argue that living close to student residences does not implicitly lead to a conclusion that students are to blame for those actions as it might be difficult to differentiate between student and non-student actors (i.e. local residents’ children, other young adults) of such behaviour. Still, Hubbard (2008) argues that the lower rates of disturbance and anti-social behaviour which occur out-of-term implicates students. Even so, some of the positive benefits students bring to local community include vibrancy through their style of dressing, food, language (i.e. international students) and music (Anderson 2013).

25Other ways that students impact on university neighbourhoods relate to the transient nature of students. Anderson’s (2013) study suggest that due to the fact that some students only live in the neighbourhood for a few months and leave during vacation, reduces chances of students and local residents having to integrate or know each other. Other studies found that during semester or term-period, students are neither neighbourly nor interested in developing relationships with their neighbours and make no attempt to interact with their neighbours (Powell and Barke 2008, Rugg et al. 2002). One implication of less contact between local residents and students is that a phenomenon referred to as ‘othering’ sets in (Hatch et al. (2016). Each group creates broad generalisations about the other and views the other side as a challenge with no shared commonalities. In this instance, there is lack of trust towards out-group members, continuous conflicts, and decline of social capital (National HMO Lobby 2008) and therefore, the sustainability of a neighbourhood.

26A high level of social capital stock is essential for communities to remain sustainable. Below, we discuss concepts of social capital and use community development theories of dialogue and intergroup contact to suggest ways to foster positive student-local resident relations.

Social Capital

27Social capital refers to networks (relationships between people), shared norms (such as keeping the neighbourhood clean, quiet and safe), values, and associated norms of reciprocity, trustworthiness and understandings, which facilitate cooperation within or among groups (Galster 2001). Despite broad application and interpretation of the social capital construct by scholars from multidisciplinary backgrounds, central to its definition is the understanding of the impact of social capital on community cohesion and broader collective action (Holman and Rydin 2012). Largely, studies on social capital relate to consensus building and managing conflicts, neighbourhood cohesion, community health and wellbeing, social ties and networks, and civic participation and capacity (Adler and Kwon 2002, Holman and Rydin 2012, Poortinga 2012, Szreter and Woolcock 2004, Woolcock 2001). Such theorising stands in contrast to the negative aspects of studentification which impacts on a community’s cohesive fabric and makes it difficult for disparate groups to co-exist peacefully (Hubbard 2009, Macintyre 2003, Rugg et al. 2002, Smith and Hubbard 2014).

28Bonding, bridging and linking aspects of social capital can provide a framework to understand the various types of relations or networks that exists in a neighbourhood. Bonding social capital refers to trusting, co-operative relations between people who share similar socio-economic backgrounds, social identities and bounded by a geographic area (e.g. family, neighbours) – in this case, tertiary students. Bridging social capital comprises relations of respect and mutual trust between people who are not alike but have similar status and power in a community (e.g. community residents, local business and organisations). Linking social capital reflects how communities are networked with institutions, political structures and decision makers/sources of power and resources (e.g. government, institutions, and organisations) (Poortinga 2012). Whereas bonding and bridging social capital each refer to ‘horizontal’ social networks and relationships that provide support and access to information, linking social capital is vertical and addresses issues of power, access and participation in broader decision-making contexts (Szreter and Woolcock, 2004).

29It can be argued that to build strong community relations, trust and collaborative relationships in university neighbourhoods to a large extent depends on high bridging social capital stock. Though local residents and students might consider themselves to have no shared commonalities, dialogue and on-going contact can be used to lessen or resolve conflicts, and minimise prejudices. Dialogue is mutually respectful communication, which engages the heart and mind, the intellect and the emotions (Ledwith 2005). Through the dialogical process, groups appreciate their differences (perspectives) and seek mutual understanding that creates both openness and solidarity (Ledwith 2011, Westoby 2014). In relation to university neighbourhoods, an application of such theory would see students and local residents come together to discuss issues of shared interests, (i.e. safety concerns), or dialogue on group-specific issues (i.e. loud parties by students). Based on mutual respect for each other, they find solutions.

30In addition to the use of dialogue to build relationships and resolve conflicts between student and local residents, the role of intergroup contact can reduce bias and diminish negative generalisations. Allport (1954) theorised about the ability of intergroup contact to reduce prejudice and improve relations between groups. In support of this view, Pettigrew and Tropp (2006) conducted a meta-analysis of over 500 studies where contact theory has been used and they found that mere contact is all that is needed to reduce intergroup prejudices and erode initial generalisations as both groups come to trust others more. Contact between both groups can be deliberate, such as utilising community events to facilitate interaction between new and existing residents and foster greater community cohesion. For example, this might include activities that purposefully increase the chance of heterogeneous contact such as regular events or newsletters welcoming new neighbours into the community; shared meals; street barbeque parties etc. This does not discount non-deliberate contact channels such as spontaneously taking opportunities for further relationship development when neighbours meet in open spaces, foot paths, and in local parks.

31Below, we use a single case study to investigate the potential for studentification in two neighbourhoods adjacent to a university in Australia and explore ways to integrate students within university neighbourhoods to ensure those communities remain cohesive and sustainable.


32This research used a case study approach to collect in-depth data about the studentification phenomenon associated with the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) in regional South East Queensland (SEQ), Australia (Figure 1). Universities in the Regional University Network, such as USC, provide a lower percentage of PBSA places per student population than those in metropolitan areas (McDonald et al. 2015) and university neighbourhoods are therefore more at risk of studentification. Furthermore, Hatch et al. (2016: 8) note that “much of the existing research literature [on studentification] is focused on urban areas, and many studies focus on this trend within the UK”. Hence, our work complements those studies by examining this phenomenon in a regional context in Australia.

33USC is Australia’s youngest university (established in 1996), with a student population of approximately 11,602 in 2016, a projected student growth to 20,000 by 2020 with a majority (99%) studying on campus (USC 2016). Despite the fact that a majority of USC students study on-campus, only three (privately owned and managed) PBSAs can accommodate less than 10% of the student population. Students either live at home or access their accommodation through the private rental market preferably in close proximity to the university. It is thus expected that local residents who lived in the area during the university’s establishment, are able to identify and recall recent changes that have occurred due to students’ activities within the local neighbourhood. It also presents opportunities to anticipate and proactively address negative impacts compared to neighbourhoods associated with older, larger and more metropolitan universities where the setting may be more complex but well-established.

34The data used for this study was collected between May 2015 and October 2015 from two university neighbourhoods - Sippy Downs and Buderim - located within the immediate locality of USC. We explored the phenomenon based on two research questions: one, regarding residents’ perceptions of student impact on the two university neighbourhoods, and second, how best to integrate students within these neighbourhoods. Data was collected through focus group discussions held with local residents of both neighbourhoods (Table 1, see below).

Participant Recruitment

35To determine the most likely neighbourhoods to be affected by studentification, USC’s Student Central Unit (SCU) reviewed student residential post codes to identify the two neighbourhoods with the highest number of student residents. Buderim and Sippy Downs included a total of 1, 854 students in 2014 in postcode 4556. With a total population of 38,724 in the postcode (Australia Bureau of Statistics 2013), students thus formed about five percent of the population. Although domestic students account for about 78 per cent (1,447) of students living in both neighbourhoods, of USC’s total international student population over 40 percent (407) live either in Sippy Downs or Buderim. A majority of USC’s international students come from India, Nepal, China, United States and Germany (USC 2016), whereas 73.9% of people living in the postcode were born in Australia, England (7.8%), New Zealand (5.2%), South Africa (1.5%) and from other countries (less than 1%) (Australia Bureau of Statistics 2013). The map below shows the proximity to the University of the two university neighbourhoods, Buderim and Sippy Downs, as well as the location of the three PBSAs close by the university in Sippy Downs.

Figure 1: Neighbourhood map of Sippy Downs and Buderim showing University of the Sunshine Coast.

Figure 1: Neighbourhood map of Sippy Downs and Buderim showing University of the Sunshine Coast.

Source: Map data ©2017 Google

Focus groups with local residents

36Emails introducing the research project were sent to neighbourhood associations of both Sippy Downs (SD) and Buderim (BD) in time for the request to be communicated during meetings and/or community newsletters to seek wide participation. In both emails, an Information Sheet (IS) was attached to introduce the study explaining the rationale of the study and a request for local residents to participate in the study as part of a focus group to be held at a convenient date and time. A total of nine participants (SD, n=4; BD, n = 5) comprised of eight men and one woman, with five from Buderim and four from Sippy Downs took part in the study (Table 1). We acknowledge the limitations of our sample size and recommend future studies could involve greater numbers. In spite of this, with the focus of the study on ‘meaning making’ and how participants perceive their neighbourhood and their student-neighbours, we argue the outcomes are revealing and worth sharing. See Table 1 below, which outlines the demographics of the participants.

Table 1: Study and Participants

Table 1: Study and Participants

37To ensure confidentiality, participants were coded based on group and gender (Sippy Downs = SD; Buderim = BD; Male, Female).

Collection and Analysis of Data

38Focus group participants were asked two separate questions related to student-residents in their neighbourhoods. Firstly, participants were asked about their perception of students living in the neighbourhood - that is, the economic, physical and sociocultural impacts students had on the neighbourhood. Secondly, local residents were asked about their ideas of how students might be integrated within university neighbourhoods – given accommodation options available to students, to ensure university neighbourhoods remain sustainable and cohesive. The focus groups were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim for analysis. The research was consistent with USC human ethics approval and protocols.

39The transcription of the audio into text was completed within two weeks following each group discussion. This was done immediately in order to begin data analysis whilst the researcher (the lead author) retained memory of participants’ non-verbal communication and expressions, language style and the context under which their views were presented. Content analysis of the focus group text in Nvivo considered the overarching purpose of the study, the questions and generated relevant themes. Content analysis continued until a point of saturation with no further ideas emerging, resulting in nine overarching themes under question one (Table 2, see below) and six emergent themes under question two (Table 3, see below). Themes under question one were further subdivided under four headings - economic, physical, social and cultural impacts, and themes under question two were subdivided across three headings - PBSA, HMO, and Homestay arrangements.


40Below, we present local residents’ perceptions regarding students’ impact on the neighbourhood and further, their opinion on how students might be integrated within university neighbourhoods. A summary of themes which are deemed important for the study are illustrated with examples of text and shown in Tables 2 and 3.

Question One: Residents’ perceptions of student impact on the university neighbourhoods

41Local residents of both neighbourhoods had similar perceptions of students’ impact on the neighbourhoods. In terms of economic impacts residents perceived that students play a role in stimulating the growth of the local economy based on their spending on items such as groceries, rental income and spin-offs such as gyms, retail stores etc. Some residents also talked about the potential for homeowners (i.e. the elderly, retirees) to augment their income by renting rooms to students.

42Some of them are quite wealthy but there's quite a lot that aren't and really suffering.... there would be a surprising number of elderly individuals and couples that could really welcome some new income (BD, M5).

43I did notice years ago that - which thrilled me - we've got a much bigger international range [in the grocery store] and I'd say this, it's because of the students (SD, F).

44In both neighbourhoods, students’ physical environmental impact was perceived to be mainly negative. Local residents perceived that students are responsible for increased traffic, illegal parking and littering of the environment (i.e. incorrect disposal of shopping trolleys) during term period (see Figure 3). On the other hand, residents also stated that not all traffic and parking issues should be attributed to university students. The concentration of primary and secondary schools (14 in total) in both neighbourhoods generate additional local traffic due to parents taking their children to and from school.

Figure 2: Street frontage of shared student households in Sippy Downs

Figure 2: Street frontage of shared student households in Sippy Downs

Photo: Nnenna Ike

45In the Sippy Downs neighbourhood, local residents attributed littering to university students based on a high amount of littering around the foot paths that lead to the three PBSAs compared with what would be the neighbourhood norm.

46The perspectives of residents about the sociocultural impact of students included a dichotomy of both positive and negative perceptions (see Table 2, below). Positive perceptions of students include the diversity they bring into the neighbourhoods. Residents perceived an associated respect of elders among international students.

47I know there's like…35 to 40 per cent in retirement villages [in Sippy Downs]. If we just take out the retirement villages first, the older folks, you've got several of those around the area… there's quite a lot of retirees here (SD, M2).

48We’ve got sushi bar and sort of environment…yeah, so it's a very, very popular and it's because of the students (SD, F).

49There are young people and particularly foreign students from Asia who are used to really respecting their elders (SD, F).

50Further, many local residents valued the friendship, stimulation, and interaction they have with their student neighbours and learn a lot from them.

51Students have got a lot to teach us and they've got a lot to learn from everyone else in the community (BD, M5).

52I like stopping and talking to international students if we're out in the street... You ask them where they're from, how long you're here for, that sort of thing, and you have great conversations (BD, M1).

53I was out getting the mail once and this… boy is …walking with this map and he's looking it up and he's walking down that way and I said, are you right? He only arrived from Japan that day and he was trying to find the student accommodation and he's walking this way and I'm like, it's that way. He looked so lost… I said to the girls, come on we're going for a walk. We're going to walk him to the student accommodation… Two days later we're shopping and the girls… they saw him and they helped him fill his trolley with what they were recommending. It was so funny. It's really exciting (SD, F).

54In both neighbourhoods, the following quotations indicate that local residents want more interaction with students and would like students to be more involved in neighbourhood activities:

55Administratively difficult but if the university could tell us whenever a student's residential address was in our post code we could send them a welcome letter, [or] something like that (BD, M2).

56There's no reason why some of them can't start getting involved…That would be a real positive in a little bit of their free time, whether it was the amateur theatre group or whether it was a sporting club. Maybe the rugby club can produce some players (BD, M3).

57Yeah, we could use some students to help us plan our events and they would probably get a lot of joy out of it…The students have got to look at beefing up their resumes and one way they can add extra things is by volunteering with different groups (BD, M2).

58You walk around the neighbourhood and a lot of the residents [local] that have been here for decades will say hello. But you can't get a smile or a hello out of them [students]…I try and engage... It’s probably because they're walking around with things in their ears and they can't hear you (BD, M5).

59Students’ disinterest in being involved in a range of community affairs was echoed by Sippy Downs’ residents. For example, the following quotes show that only a narrow aspect of community life, such as car parking issues, held an interest for students.

60We have meetings involved when the parking issue was upsetting people...and that's the only time the students have come up (SD, M2).

61Two meetings back we had a few of them on their high horse, lot of whinging and carrying on [about parking] … (SD, M3).

62The negative social impacts students had on the neighbourhood are in terms of noise from parties held by students living in PBSA and from friends visiting students in shared households. Participants explained that this social behaviour would discourage potential non-student residents who otherwise would buy or rent properties in those areas. To mitigate such conflict, participants suggested that good communication between students and local residents is vital. For example, residents of Sippy Downs described a situation where students informed them of an upcoming party beforehand which the residents appreciated.

63They sent us all a note. It was just to say, if the noise bothers you we'll be finished at midnight, one o'clock. Please don't ring the police (SD, M2).

64Analysis of residents’ responses verbatim to the first question on students’ impact on the local neighbourhood thus elicited nine overarching themes within the broad categories of economic, physical, social and cultural (Table 2 below).

Table 2: Summary of local residents’ perception of students’ impact on the community

Table 2: Summary of local residents’ perception of students’ impact on the community

Question Two: Residents’ perception on how best to integrate students within university neighbourhoods

65The second set of questions asked participants about their ideas of how students might be integrated within university neighbourhoods given students’ accommodation options, to ensure university neighbourhoods remain sustainable and cohesive. Participants suggested that students should be integrated within the neighbourhood through a mix of accommodation forms.

66I think most community members would go, we don't want students here. If it was just at a glance and they didn't have to think about it, they would go no because there's that connotation of parties and that kind of thing (SD, M1).

67I prefer to see it mixed… yes, definitely a bit of both [PBSA and HMOs] (BD, M3)

68With that nine month/three month thing [Homestay], nearly as a positive, for instance, we had a spare room in our house it would be rather nice to know that they're not going to be there at Christmas time, because that's when family and friends come (BD, M5).

69The residents argued that through this multi-faceted approach, one form of accommodation can lessen the negative effects of the other. For example, residents were of the opinion that accommodating students in PBSAs only will lead to development of ghettos and segregate students away from the rest of the community. Whereas, integrating students through different forms of accommodation (HMO, PBSA, Homestay) through the neighbourhoods can diminish some of the disadvantages of PBSA. Further, local residents in both neighbourhoods shared similar opinions about areas of conflicts with students living in HMOs - i.e. loud parties, parking on gardens or in front of driveways. But some residents also pointed out that these issues also apply to students who live in PBSA. To address some of these conflicts, local residents of both suburbs suggested Homestay as a valuable option.

Table 3: Local residents’ perspectives on three student accomodation types and their role in integratig students within university neighbourhoods

Table 3: Local residents’ perspectives on three student accomodation types and their role in integratig students within university neighbourhoods

Discussion on Findings

Students’ Impact on University Neighbourhoods

70Findings from question one on participants’ perception of the impacts of students living in the neighbourhood showed a degree of ambivalence. Students were perceived to have positive economic impact and negative physical impacts.


71This study shows that local residents perceive students to impact on the neighbourhood in a positive way. Findings are consistent with previous studies on students’ economic impact that suggest that not only do local businesses benefit from students living in university neighbourhoods but “off-campus rental properties would for the most part bring money into the pockets of local landlords and business interests” (Black 2002: 13). In both neighbourhoods from our study, there is an increase in the number of rental properties that are sublet to students in shared housing and additional income for individuals or family that rent out spare bedrooms or garages to students. Contrary to other studies, this study did not find that students had a negative economic impact (i.e. resort economy) on the neighbourhood. Reasons for this might be due to the fact that the university is located in a popular coastal tourism region that attracts domestic and international visitors alike. In 2015, it was estimated that over 3 million visitors visited and spent almost $2million on the Sunshine Coast region (Sunshine Coast Destination Limited 2015). Although this expenditure was for the entire region, one can argue that such economic prosperity trickles-down, and perhaps mitigates adverse economic effects that students’ absences during holiday periods might have on both neighbourhoods.


72This study is similar to other studies that found students’ physical environment impact within university neighbourhoods is seen primarily in a negative light related to issues of increased traffic and parking issues, environmental hygiene and amenity concerns. For instance, participants in our study described students as responsible for littering in an area of the neighbourhood where three PBSAs are located, and for improper disposal of shopping trolleys along pathways that lead to student accommodation. It might be useful for local residents and students to engage in dialogue and seek ways of addressing these issues through mutual understanding of the benefit of maintaining a safe and clean environment. Another option is for businesses located within university neighbourhoods to consider measures such as discounts or cash-back incentives to return shopping trolleys to designated points in the neighbourhoods. This would also save the businesses the cost of retrieving and replacing trollies.

73Further, while studentified neighbourhoods grapple with issues such as run-down rental properties or amenity, it is expected that property owners or landlords are responsible for the maintenance of their properties. To ensure that lessors are held accountable for the state of their property, Hatch et al. (2016) suggests a ‘carrots and sticks’ approach, based on the idea that universities or their student associations list student accommodation providers on their website or in an office. As such, a negative report about specific sites from a local authority or neighbourhood committee could result in exclusion of those premises from the list of rental information. In this way, landlords would be encouraged to maintain their properties and good standing with the university and in return, they enjoy free marketing of their properties.

74Although parking and traffic concerns of local residents are understandable, they are not unique to university neighbourhoods. Some of these concerns can be addressed through the improvement and upgrade of foot paths and bicycle lanes from university campuses to the surrounding neighbourhoods, thereby encouraging students to walk and/or cycle to campus. Immediate benefits are reduced traffic and parking issues for both the university and local residents, active and healthier lifestyle for students and safer environment. Likewise increasing public transit between the campus and university neighbourhoods during term periods would offer a convenient alternative to students having to purchase their own cars and finding and paying for parking.


75In our study, students’ sociocultural impact on the neighbourhood is well recognised. Similar to other studies in the studentification phenomenon, the broad generalisation of students’ anti-social behaviours has an implication for community cohesion and sustainability. Conflict between students and the surrounding residents is neither new nor surprising; this issue has occurred in most university-adjacent towns since the advent of higher education (Hatch et al. 2016). Universities have a role to play to foster positive social relations between students and local residents. For example, an approach universities could take is to provide their students with information such as a handbook or related resources on how they can be a good neighbour while living in the wider community.

76In summary, although local residents identify that students’ activities have both positive and negative impacts on the neighbourhood, studentification might not actively be occurring in the two neighbourhoods for several reasons: the younger age of the neighbourhood development and the university, the relatively low percentage of the population of tertiary students, and the number of primary and high schools in the area that also attract and retain families.

How Students can be integrated within University Neighbourhoods

77Based on findings from question two, which sought participants’ ideas of how students might be integrated within university neighbourhoods, below we discuss the variety of accommodation available to students as well as social issues that needs to be considered.

A Variety of Accommodation

Purpose-built-student-accommodation (PBSA)

78Local residents expressed concern that PBSA leads to the ghettoization of neighbourhoods and creates a monoculture. Studies support the view that segregation of a group can cause albeit unintentionally, social divides in communities perpetuating the concept of ‘us versus them’ (Fincher and Shaw 2009, Hubbard 2009, Sage et al. 2012). This is consistent with bonding social capital where members of homogeneous communities may tend to bond and form positive relationships more readily (Putnam 2007). This view leans on a broad generalisation of students as temporary residents, different from long-term residents. Nevertheless, the PBSA model can address some negative impacts of studentification – e.g. concerns about noise are restricted to an area; parking spaces are provided within the student complex; and students may not need to own car due to proximity to campus.

Houses-in-Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

79In our study, residents perceive social challenges associated with living next door to students in shared housing such as noise and being anti-social, but they also pointed out that living close to students enabled interaction and exchange of ideas. Since studies that show that interest from residents to commune with students can begin a dialogical process of bringing both groups into more productive forms of contact, this could help in resolving conflicts that may arise from living side-by-side (Hatch et al. 2016). Contact can range from mundane activities (saying hello, and helping with parcels) to greater contact such as sharing meals, looking after each other’s children and pets. Without dialogue among neighbours, HMOs might promote bonding but not bridging social capital and this may then contribute to the ‘othering’ of neighbours. As such, HMOs present an avenue otherwise lacking in the PBSA model to increase social capital and cohesion in the neighbourhood.


80Local residents in our study posited that the Homestay arrangements offer immense benefits to both local residents (the host family) and students. For local residents this may include an additional source of income from student rent, being assisted with housekeeping, and the friendship and companionship that eventuates between the host family and student. This developing relationship supports the earlier view about bringing both groups into contact to diminish prejudices and generalisations, and would function to build bridging social capital.

81However, if not properly managed, homestay arrangements can reinforce stereotypes and lead to conflicts due to differences in social and cultural values and personal belief systems, and lifestyle between host family and students (Akbar et al. 2004, Hazel et al. 2002, Richardson 2003). One way to manage this is for the university student guild or a not-for-profit agency provide a matching service between household and student, with regular monitoring to ensure continuing workability. Therefore, it follows that in terms of this accommodation option, good dialogic practice is warranted to foster good relationships amongst local residents and students.

Social Interaction

82Irrespective of type of accommodation, contact theory helps us understand how people can better coexist, and dialogue is crucial to reduce potential conflicts between residents. University neighbourhoods through processes of dialogue between existing residents and student residents could together seek innovative and place-specific ways to build more cohesive and sustainable communities. Ledwith’s (2011) research with community groups shows that processes of dialogue enable relations of trust, mutuality and respect to grow. Applying such theory to the context for this study would include activities such as community meetings to address issues of concern (i.e. parking, noise), and organising social events such as neighbourhood barbecues, welcome newsletters etc. In this manner, local communities and students come into dialogue to discuss issues of shared interests and through a mutual understanding, find solutions to issues of concern. However, one of the challenges that may be faced by local and student residents in dialogue-ing is students’ transient nature, given that the population keeps changing and might lead to what National HMO Lobby (2008: 9) refers to as the ‘groundhog effect’:

83As temporary residents, students are unaware of the past of an area, and have no knowledge that it was ever otherwise. Similarly, as temporary residents without a future in the area, many students are unable to engage in long-term strategies. Relations between residents and students therefore remain in an eternal present, and have to be renewed every year, with each new cohort of students.

84Furthermore, as intergroup contact increases, Putnam (2007: 138) suggests that this “dampens the negative effects of diversity by constructing new, more encompassing identities… to create a new, broader sense of we”. This can be viewed as a new form of social solidarity and community identity between students and long-term residents. This is not to suggest that social problems can be addressed by increasing social connections alone or to say that stereotypes about the other group or conflict ceases; rather, Hatch et al. (2016) infers that people grow to like other people and they understand that what differentiates one from the other is not so divisive or truly important.

Policy Planning

85An approach to address negative studentification is through good planning policy. This includes policy such that regulates the quantity of UPH (dependent on the number of bed spaces) provided within university neighbourhoods irrespective of the provider. This policy relates to the siting of purpose-built-student-accommodation such that it is carefully dispersed through the neighbourhood. This measure is aimed at addressing students’ negative socio-cultural impacts such as, students not integrating or getting to know their non-student neighbours. Dispersal of student accommodation decreases the possibility of polarisation or concentration of students within specific areas (ghettos).

86Next, it may be useful to set a ceiling or limits as to the number of HMOs per street in traditional-family neighbourhoods (as opposed to inner cities) or within close proximity to certain areas (i.e. local primary and secondary schools, retirement homes). This policy would address some of the issues raised by local residents, and relates to students’ environmental impact (i.e. traffic congestion, parking, and rundown properties). It is similar to the “threshold policy” introduced in the UK that set no more than 5% of the properties in any street may be HMOs (National HMO Lobby 2008). This will require that HMO providers register with and are licensed by a local council for a period of time (i.e. 3- 5years). Similar to the ‘carrots and sticks’ approach proposed by Hatch et al. (2016), this approach ensures that firstly, HMO operators maintain proper management standards of amenities and facilities of their properties so as not to detract from the neighbourhood (which may subsequently discourage would-be buyers or renters) otherwise they lose their licence. We concede that this should be managed in such a way that the regulation does not apply retrospectively to any existing HMO. Further, a register provides local council valuable information such as population and demography, and what additional facilities or services (i.e. transport, waste management) may be required in the neighbourhood.

87Although restricting the proportion of HMOs in these areas might help to address some of these issues, one might also argue that such areas could become ghost areas at night as older residents go to bed and after business hours of primary and secondary schools. Thus, accommodating university students helps to rejuvenate such places, and keep it vibrant even at night-time. To address these opposing views, local council should engage in public consultation with local residents to determine the best approach for the community as whole.


88The purpose of this study was to explore ways to integrate students within university neighbourhoods to ensure those communities remain cohesive and sustainable. The local residents in our study have not yet had to contend with serious studentification as found in some university neighbourhoods where the proportion of student residents is much greater. However, they have an attachment to their neighbourhoods and wish to promote good social relations and friendships in ways that will contribute to social capital and sustainable communities. They consider that purposefully integrating students within the neighbourhood in HMOs and Homestays and additional mechanisms for deliberate interaction would be necessary to maintain these values.

89This study has captured the views of a limited number of local residents who have made insightful suggestions about how to maintain a sustainable community. Further research could involve a longitudinal study with specific direct interventions to assess the effectiveness of contact theory, from a greater number and diversity of residents and from students who access various accommodation types in these neighbourhoods.

90Drawing on theories of social capital, dialogue and intergroup contact, we suggest ways to improve social relations and foster trust between students and local residents of university neighbourhoods. The theory of dialogue values communication as communion, where bonds are formed between people and commitments to ethical processes have the potential for profound personal and social transformation (White 2008). Dialogic communication invites people into a different kind of relationship with each other, enriching the stories of “self,” “other,” and “community” (Anderson et al. 2003). It emphasises open, honest and respectful communication between people towards conflict resolution, increasing trust, forging alliances and finding truths to bind and bring people together to achieve goals (Ledwith 2005, Westoby 2014). Applying this theory to our university neighbourhoods would suggest dialogical processes could enable opportunities to address concerns about the negative impacts of studentification. Together with processes that harness the positive elements of what it means to live in diverse neighbourhoods would foster solidarity-building, where existing residents and student residents take steps to create new directions and futures through collective action (Ledwith 2011).

91The study investigated three forms of student accommodation and found that purposefully integrating students within the neighbourhood through a mix of different accommodation options, PBSA, HMOs and Homestay could address the deleterious effects of studentification. Students are a heterogeneous population that have different housing needs reflected in their preference for accommodation (Ike et al. 2016). In this regard, a one-size-fits-all approach or the use of a single accommodation type to integrate students within university neighbourhoods is impractical given the various benefits and disadvantages each accommodation type offers.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1: Neighbourhood map of Sippy Downs and Buderim showing University of the Sunshine Coast.
Caption Source: Map data ©2017 Google
File image/png, 556k
Title Table 1: Study and Participants
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Title Figure 2: Street frontage of shared student households in Sippy Downs
Credits Photo: Nnenna Ike
File image/png, 725k
Title Table 2: Summary of local residents’ perception of students’ impact on the community
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Title Table 3: Local residents’ perspectives on three student accomodation types and their role in integratig students within university neighbourhoods
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Electronic reference

Nnenna Ike, Claudia Baldwin and Athena Lathouras, Optimising Tertiary Student Accommodation within University NeighbourhoodsArticulo - Journal of Urban Research [Online], Varia, Online since 15 October 2017, connection on 30 May 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Nnenna Ike

School of Social Sciences. University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia.

Claudia Baldwin

School of Social Sciences. University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia.

Athena Lathouras

School of Social Sciences. University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia.

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