Kiwi students borrowing from parents, working two jobs as university accommodation costs skyrocket

Student halls of residence at the University of Canterbury.
Student halls of residence at the University of Canterbury. Photo credit: Supplied/University of Canterbury

Story by Leonard Powell of RNZ

Living in university halls are seen as a rite of passage for some, where young adults start their tertiary studies, making memories and friendships.

But like many things in New Zealand in 2024, the price to stay on campus has never been higher.

Aidan Lipscombe is a first year student at the University of Auckland, and well aware of the financial costs of study.

"At the moment I'm taking $300 out of the government per week, and that doesn't even pay my full accommodation. That's not even including school fees.

"I'm quite grateful that I've got fees free this year, so at least I don't need to worry about that, but then I'm also taking out a loan with my parents of $190 a week just to pay my accommodation."

Lipscombe's $490 a week pays for three meals a day and laundry facilities. It is similar to prices in Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin, where living in a hall costs between $19,000 and $23,500 a year.

Waikato University has the cheapest fully catered accommodation at just under $15,000 and Massey's Palmerston North Campus is just over $17,000 a year.

At the University of Auckland's central campus, first year law and psychology student, Kristen, said she could not afford the halls.

"I'm still at home. I'm a bit broke, so hopefully I'll flat next year or something like that.

"I've got a part time job. I've got two jobs actually. Both in the mall."

Lipscombe said most of his schoolmates stayed at home this year.

"The majority of people have stayed in Auckland because it's just much more convenient to stay with their parents for their uni years. It'd be probably an 80-20 split, 80 percent stay in their hometown, 20 percent go out somewhere else."

Joel is studying computer science at AUT. He came up from Tauranga, and is paying $450 a week to live in the halls.

"My parents said they'll help me a bit, but I'm getting a job soon. Hopefully work like 12 hours a week or something to pay that off. And then I get student loan as well. So I take money out and pay them back later."

Paul O'Flaherty is the executive director of People, Culture and Campus Life at the University of Canterbury. Despite the rising cost of living, he said his university has seen unprecedented levels of demand.

"We want to have more students and we're certainly getting them at the moment, to the point where we're looking to build more student accommodation in the coming years to accommodate what we think will be the ongoing demand.

"I think some of that is to do with Christchurch, but none of this would be happening if we didn't have good, solid and attractive academic offerings as well. So I think it's a package really that people are seeing at the moment and they like it."

UC's priciest accommodation, Arcadie Hall, costs $23,500 a year. That does not include the three month summer break, when students must find accommodation elsewhere. But there are different offerings.

"We go from $166 a week to $500 a week, depending on where you want to, or are choosing to apply for," O'Flaherty said.

"So at the top end of that range, you're talking about full catering and all the other services, laundry and so forth that you'd imagine."

O'Flaherty said 90 percent of University of Canterbury students come from out of town, with many from the rural North Island. He said $500 a week may sound like a lot, but it is in line with the renting market.

"If you look at an average flat - I've got some children flatting at the moment - you'd be satisfied if you were getting a room in a flat in Christchurch now for somewhere between $300 and $350 a week for a reasonable flat.

"And that's, generally speaking, just paying for the room. So that doesn't include all the other things: food, electricity and so forth. So I think even at the top end of the range, I think that's a pretty good price."

It appears the price, at least in Christchurch, is not a deterrent for those seeking the full experience of student life. And when O'Flaherty sees students coming together and forming special bonds, he is reminded of his time studying.

"I don't think the model has changed much. I was at university 40 years ago now. But I don't think that's changed. The people you meet in the halls, many of them then go on to be your flatmates over the next two or three years at university, and then some of them stay and become your friends for life."

In Auckland, business student Aidan Lipscombe is trying his best to enjoy university. He said he will worry about the debt later.

"It's not something that I'm thinking about 24/7, but it's an almost uneasy looming over me... it's always in the back of my head, saying, I'm glad I have this opportunity to study in university, but at the same time, when I go out into the workforce, I know I'm going to have to pay quite a substantial student loan."