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Paul Little and Jane Hansen give $30m for student accommodation

Elizabeth Redman for The Australian

Rich-lister and former Toll Holdings boss Paul Little and former investment banker Jane Hansen have unveiled a 40-year vision to provide tertiary scholarships through a $30 million gift to the University of Melbourne.


The couple’s donation will be used to build a student accommodation tower and the profits from the residence will be redirected into a scholarship program for students who might not otherwise be able to attend the university.


The project will be known as Little Hall and will have a build cost of more than $100m, with the Hansen Little Foundation to contribute the first $30m of equity and the university to fund the rest.


The project comes as several student accommodation operators have been eyeing the tight residential market and warning that landlords are hesitant to lease properties to students with little credit history.


Ms Hansen was inspired to set up the philanthropic structure after seeing the “lucrative returns” made by commercial providers of student accommodation.


“And I thought, why not apply these excess returns to a philanthropic model for the benefit of students at the university?” Ms Hansen said. “To me it seemed more socially equitable given that it is the status and the location of this institution which affords these operators with their opportunity.”


With most residents paying commercial rates for their accommodation, the university will use at least $2m of returns from the hall per year to fund the scholarship program that starts in 2020 with 20 recipients.


The scholarship winners will receive free accommodation at Little Hall and support for living costs throughout their undergraduate degree at $24,000 a year, indexed, and may also receive a grant to complete an internship or international study.


The Hayball Architects-­designed building will feature 669 ensuite bedrooms over 13 levels on a 2586sq m block currently used as university office space.


The design includes 150 stu­dios, 114 twin studios and 405 cluster-style apartments of up to five bedrooms, plus multipurpose study rooms, a cinema, gym and cafe.


The couple hope the building — to be developed by Little Projects — will be of a higher quality than other student accommodation options, with larger rooms and more expansive windows, to make the venture a success.


“From our point of view we’re making this a really sought-after destination for students wanting to live there,” Mr Little said. “But also of course the scholarship is an important outcome.”


The couple, whose previous gifts include $3.5m towards the refurbishment of the State Library of Victoria and $10m towards history teaching at the university, hope the new donation will encourage others to give generously.


For example, the scholarship program could be expanded to more students if other donors wanted to contribute, Ms Hansen said. She described the project as “leveraged philanthropy” — where the gift was combined with funds from the university.


Australian Unity Trustees executive general manager Emma Sakellaris said there was a local and global trend among the wealthy away from general purpose donations left in wills and towards specific, commercially minded projects funded during an individual’s lifetime. “The very wealthy philanthropists are being very clear about the purpose of their grants and the expectation around the outcome of those grants,” Ms Sakellaris said.


University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis said the gift was the largest in the university’s history for the benefit of students.


“Little Hall is a wonderful opportunity to create an affordable housing option for University of Melbourne students in an academic and intellectually rich setting,” Professor Davis said.

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