Where do university students live in Melbourne?

Where do university students live in Melbourne, and why do they choose these locations? Universities, governments, developers, students and non-students all need to know. We looked at this question on a recent project.

Not surprisingly, we found that, in most cases, an area’s distance from a university is a strong determinant of the proportion of university students living there. More interesting, however, were the areas that bucked the trend.

Students need to be close to universities

Figure 1 shows where students live in relation to metro Melbourne universities.

Figure 1: Where Students Live and Where Campuses Are

I modelled the impact of university distance on student housing locations using several methods [1] and found a strong correlation between the two. This is shown in Figure 2, along with a negative exponential regression line used to model the relationship. The model indicated that when the distance to the nearest university campus (in kilometres) increased by 1%, the proportion of university students living in that area decreased by 40%.

Figure 2: Comparing Student Concentration and Campus Location

Some areas bucked the trend

There are some exceptions to this 1:40 rule. Given the distance to a university campus, these places have relatively high or low proportions of university students. I wondered why this was the case.

Figure 3 shows locations in Melbourne that have more university students than we would expect for their distance to a university. It includes parts of the following suburbs:

  • Brunswick, Coburg and Northcote
  • Kew
  • Hawthorn
  • Carnegie, Oakleigh, and Caulfield
  • South Yarra and Prahran
  • Docklands
  • Flemington, North Melbourne and Kensington
  • Footscray and Maribyrnong
  • Yarra-North

Figures 3 and 4 show why — these popular areas are often on tram and train routes (Northcote, Brunswick, South Yarra & Prahran, Flemington & North Melbourne), and largely avoid the areas with the highest rental prices (except the Docklands).

In addition, many locations have good access to shops and nightlife (i.e. Northcote, South Yarra and Prahran)[2].

Figure 3: Popular University Housing Suburbs, Campuses and Public Transport Routes
Figure 4: Popular University Housing Suburbs, Campuses and Rental Prices

By contrast, Figure 5 shows areas close to university campuses that have low proportions of university students. This includes:

  • Collingwood
  • South Melbourne & Albert Park
  • Footscray, Seddon and Yarraville
  • Areas of Hawthorn

Footscray, Seddon and Yarraville are only connected to the central city by one train route and no trams, which may explain their lack of popularity [3]. South Melbourne, Albert Park and Collingwood have rental prices that university students may be unable to pay. Areas of Hawthorn and Collingwood are inaccessible via tram or trains and further away from shopping precincts. See Figures 5 and 6 for more information.

Figure 5: Students, Campuses and Public Transport Routes
Figure 6: Students, Campuses, and Rental Prices

Implications for university stakeholders

The main takeaways for me are:

  • For developers: An opportunity exists to build housing for university students close to campus in areas that are currently ‘unpopular’ due to lack of public transport options and/or rental prices. If those factors change, demand is likely to be very strong. And various layers of government may be willing to help with a little investment in public transport and housing affordability.
  • For universities: To support enrolment, universities should focus on building affordable on-campus housing, particularly at campuses where it is almost impossible to find affordable student housing in the private market. Obviously more online courses will reduce this need, as would (in part at least) more classes during non-peak traffic times to assist students who have to commute.
  • For municipalities: Municipalities that want to attract university students should focus on encouraging more affordable housing (particularly in areas close, or accessible, to university campuses but with few students). In addition, they should encourage night-time economy activities and lobby for new public transport or bike routes.

Ultimately, though, the best way to attract university students is to open a campus near you.

[1] Splines and a negative exponential regression were used to model this relationship.

[2] In the case of Yarra North and Kew, the outliers may not be relevant: We missed Melbourne Polytechnic’s Yarra North campus in our analysis.

[3] It should be noted that our analysis did not consider the type and capacity of the university in question, as we do not have that data. All universities are here weighted equally in their ability to attract university student residents in nearby areas. This may also explain some results.