Halls of residence hit by cost of living: report

Sala Kunatuba attenda a hall of residence at the University of Otago. PHOTO: Gregor Richardson
Sala Kunatuba attenda a hall of residence at the University of Otago. PHOTO: Gregor Richardson
Cost-of-living issues and population demographics have led to a drop in people attending University of Otago halls of residence.

The latest university council financial report said there were "unfavourable variances", which were "related to College and UniFlats occupancy and loss of ... [University College] summer conferencing income".

Figures provided to the Otago Daily Times showed that occupancy was slightly more than 95% across colleges, which included over 60 beds in a new wing at Aquinas College that were not ready to be occupied at the start of the semester.

"Once you adjust for those beds, occupancy is 97%, down from slightly more than 98% at the start of the semester," a spokeswoman for the university said.

"It is normal to get some drop-off in occupancy through the semester and this amount of drop-off is not unusual. On the other hand, we will have more students coming into colleges for the start of semester 2 as usual, to start studying or transferring from another university."

The spokeswoman said demographics played a part in the lower-than-average occupancy numbers.

"The year 13 school-leaver cohorts across New Zealand have in 2022 and 2023 been at their lowest levels in more than a decade [about 43,000 compared with about 45,000 for several years prior to that].

"Additionally, fewer students nationally have gained university entrance.

"So, in summary, we are recruiting from the smallest pool of university entrance-qualified school leavers in around a decade."

But it appears the cost-of-living crisis is also a factor.

Some students who spoke to the Otago Daily Times yesterday said they knew of people who decided to take a gap year and work rather than begin study, or decided to study closer to home for their first year.

The spokeswoman acknowledged this.

"These are not massive changes of behaviour, just greater numbers of students choosing to do the things some students have always done."

There was also evidence of students from affluent backgrounds studying overseas in greater numbers, she said.

Otago University College (Unicol) fees have increased from $17,480 in 2022 to $19,260 this year.

"That is an increase of 5% between 2022 and 2023, and a further 5% between 2023 and 2024," she said.

"That compares with New Zealand’s inflation rates of 7.2% for 2022 and 4.7% for 2023."

The university would also embark on a campaign to encourage more people into halls, she said.

"The 2024 year 13 cohort — the core of our incoming students for 2025 — is much larger than the past couple of years, indicatively about 46,000 nationally, with the 2025 cohort [for 2026] forecast to be significantly larger again.

"If we simply retain current recruitment market share and nothing else changes, the impact of these two demographic upswings for Otago is about 200 more commencing domestic students next year, and another 200 after that.

"We will also have more international students to accommodate as our numbers continue to recover."