sleeping in library
Place for learning or place for living... Source: Shutterstock.

When you think of students sleeping in the library you probably think of exhausted kids catching some shut-eye because of late nights spent studying. What you probably don’t think of is students actually living there. But this was the reality for six international students in Australia.

Last month, the students were found and subsequently ‘evicted’ from Port Macquarie’s Charles Sturt University (CSU) campus library where they had been staying.

CSU Deputy Vice-Chancellor Jenny Roberts told ABC News the students have been offered “a range of accommodation options” through CSU in the city but have chosen not to accept them.

“The students have advised CSU they are now living with friends when they travel from Sydney to Port Macquarie during the week,” Roberts said.

But the six thrown out of the library are not the only ones who have struggled to find accommodation in Australia.

When Nepalese student Akash* first moved to Port Macquire to study at CSU, he stayed in a backpacker’s hostel, according to ABC News.

“I was thinking I would stay for a week or two, but that got extended, and I had to stay a month and a half,” he said.

Another student, Diya*, was fortunate enough to have family living in the city as when she moved to Australia she could not find anywhere of her own to stay.

“We had applied for so many places, and we got rejected because we are students and it’s a high-risk factor for the agents, so getting our own place is quite hard,” she told ABC News.

According to the Council of International Students Australia’s Public Relations Officer Arjun Mathilakath Madathil, the six found squatting in the library do not have a unique story – in fact, he often hears stories of students living in university buildings.

“Some students stay at hostels or Airbnbs when they first get here, but once that is done, they become homeless and they feel safer to stay on campus, or in a campus library,” he said.

“It’s a cultural difference, they don’t know what is right or wrong, and they think this is the easiest and safest way for them to spend the night.”

International students also tend to be targeted for housing scams.

“That happens all around Australia,” Madathil explained. “Scammers will tell the student they have a house or room for them to rent and the student will pay money.

“Once the student arrives in Australia they realise there’s nothing there, the room or house doesn’t exist.”

As the number of international students in Australia grows, the number of affordable dwellings to meet this number has not grown with it, said President of the National Union of Students Mark Pace.

“Because of that we’re seeing a huge increase in the demand of affordable housing, and landlords are quite often exploiting that, putting them into subpar accommodation, sometimes illegal, and quite often horrific,” he added.

“I’m not surprised that students in this case have found they had to live on campus.”

Pace called upon governments to help provide “more affordable housing for students.”

Federal Minister for Education Simon Birmingham agreed, claiming the reports are concerning.

“It is up to Australian universities to make sure that when they enrol students there is appropriate support for those students, as well as in terms of accommodation,” he said.

However, Birmingham stressed some of the blame falls on the students too, saying it is their responsibility to meet their visa requirements, which include ensuring they are able to financially support themselves while they study in Australia, and accommodation costs are included in this.

* Students have chosen to use pseudonyms. 

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