An investigation into the investment potential of purpose-built student accommodation in Sydney

Terence Yat Ming Lam*, Calvin P. W. Cheng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Higher education is now one of the biggest export sectors in the Australian economy. Purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) has emerged as a new asset class in Australia, as demanded by international and domestic students. As of 25 October 2020, there were still approximately 400,000 onshore international students and 135,000 offshore students despite the COVID pandemic. Various universities remain optimistic about their returns to Australia. Active PBSA investors remain focussed on the longer-term fundamentals and return of the Australian student market. This study aims to examine the investment potential of the PBSA sector in Sydney.

The triangulation method was used to confirm whether the literature findings on the high potential of PBSA investment apply to the context of the Sydney market. Qualitative expert interviews with two directors of major international real estate consulting firms, one private family trust investor and one director of a development company, were conducted in tandem with a qualitative multiple-case study of three major PBSAs via interviews with their building managers. These selected participants broadly covered the stakeholder settings across the industry.

A positive and solid trend of demand and rental growth was confirmed by the expert interviews and the performance of PBSA cases in Sydney, as supported by the growing number of international students in the longer term. To enhance the rental growth, and hence total returns, self-contained studio-type accommodation with quality facilities and social support should be provided, and operators should consistently track the needs of students and provide them with a better living experience.

Research limitations/implications
PBSA is a new asset class and there have been limited supply and sale transactions to enable detailed examination of the capital growth, so this research has focussed on rental growth. When the PBSA market becomes more mature, further research should be conducted to analyse the strength of this emerging investment’s capital growth and total returns.

Practical implications
In the longer term, PBSA is a low-risk property investment with potentially high returns in Sydney. Institutional investors and real estate consultants can make informed decisions to build up the property portfolio. PBSA is capital-intensive and has low liquidity, so this type of investment is particularly suitable for institutional investors.

Social implications
Universities should provide more suitable PBSA accommodations by themselves or partnerships with private developers. Planning authorities should include more PBSA residential uses in the land zoning plan. This is to provide more affordable accommodations to meet the demand of cost-sensitive students.

This research confirms PBSA is a low-risk investment with potentially high returns within the context of the Sydney market. The findings will benefit the major stakeholders of PBSA in their investment decisions, including investors, developers and universities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)852-874
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Housing Markets and Analysis
Issue number4
Early online date9 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2022
Externally publishedYes

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