FREMANTLE mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge has flagged student housing at a redeveloped Fremantle Oval so students have more options to live near where they study.
Fremantle’s high rents and shortage of available rooms means many students are living in far-flung suburbs and wear high transport costs each week to earn their degrees.
Ms Fitzhardinge says she supports Notre Dame University’s plans to try and get more students living locally, saying it would “create a vibrant, dynamic and international community”, but said gentrification was a big problem.
“If you’re lucky enough to own a house, that’s great, it’s worth a lot more now, but if you don’t and you want to rent or you’re a student or you’re on a fixed income or a low income, things are really tough right now,” she said.
“We even hear that some students live up at the colleges at UWA and catch the bus down to Freo and then back to the colleges, and that just seems sad.”
Ms Fitzhardinge said the students added to the local economy, pointing to a current shortage of workers that’s restricted some cafes’ opening hours.
The mayor made the comments at the recent Politics in the Pub at The Local Hotel in South Fremantle, which was attended by about 100 people and included presentation by Notre Dame’s vice chancellor Francis Campbell, Chamber of Commerce CEO Chrissie Maus and Notre Dame third year student Mignon du Plessis.
Ms du Plessis said being a student at NDA and having to travel in by public transport from Kensington each day and leave after lectures affected her ability to feel a part of the broader Fremantle community.
It also had consequences for the city.
“A lot of the nightlife, especially in the weekdays, as much as its supported by students close and around the tutorials and lectures, it isn’t sustained,” Ms du Plessis said.
“Especially we can see that on school holidays or on large university breaks, where, especially during the week, those cafes/businesses which are heavily supported by students, they’re desolate – they’re empty.”
But while there should be more focus on encouraging students to stay in Fremantle, Ms de Plessis said studying among the city’s renovated heritage buildings, its funky small businesses and its beaches made studying in Fremantle so unique.
She said it was more a “learning town” than university town, as it encouraged students to step out of their comfort zone in many situations.
Study abroad student Julian Scott will be at Notre Dame for the current semester and told the Herald he’d had a positive experience studying in Fremantle.
Applying for studying abroad through his home university in Portland was challenging, but said NDA had an “easy application process” with everyone being “super helpful” in making his experience as easy as possible.
He did encounter some problems registering for classes, as there was only a course list available from the semester before.
“About half the classes weren’t available anymore and I had to reschedule,” Mr Scott said.
Finding a place to stay wasn’t a problem though, as he was offered a room at the NDA-leased Port Lodge in Marine Terrace and really enjoys it there.
A spokesperson for the university said they were aware of the challenges of accommodating students and were working “with a number of key stakeholders, including the City of Fremantle”.
“This is a challenge being experienced by all WA universities,” the spokesperson said.
Fremantle Society president John Dowson doesn’t believe the oval will be suitable for student accommodation.
“Given council’s disastrous speculative efforts to make money with their new administration building, it is of concern to hear that the COF and NDU are in talks to provide student housing for Notre Dame at Fremantle Oval as part of the massive large boxes they are proposing there in their released development concept,” Mr Dowson said.
While he believe Notre Dame’s “quality renovation” had been admirable while it was being developed, he said the conditions of a Memorandum of Understanding signed with the council have not been met since the document expired in 2019.
“Problem is we have two mediocre institutions involved here. Can they actually deal with the issues that need addressing.”
Mr Dowson said a “strong current MOU” was needed and said he was “shocked” to hear Ms Fitzhardinge talk down the document at Politics in the Pub.
“It has always been regarded, especially by Notre Dame, as a high level document,” he said.
by EVA KRUMPELMANN