They laid out the sleeping bags in sight of the vice-chancellor's office.
Week one festivities were winding down at the Australian National University but these students weren't going home. On Friday night, as their breath fogged in the dark, a dozen or so gathered in protest and in solidarity with their peers sleeping rough.
While the university has one of the highest percentages of students living on campus, it also has a shortfall of beds. Grand plans are underway to build more, mostly for undergraduates, but students say urgent intervention is needed to address a postgraduate housing crisis already playing out on couches, in cars and tents, even at the ANU library.
The sleep out came as vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt revealed the university was committing for the first time to offer postgraduate students a guarantee of accommodation in their first year. The policy, which has previously only applied to undergraduates, is expected to be in place by 2021.
Deputy vice-chancellor of university experience Richard Baker conceded the ANU had a lot of building to do first and Professor Schmidt has acknowledged accommodation will remain an issue for many students in Canberra's notoriously competitive rental market.
The announcement was welcomed by ANU's postgraduate and research student association, which has long campaigned on the issue, but president Alyssa Shaw expressed disappointment that the university continued to ignore more urgent recommendations - including a proposal to repurpose dormant housing on campus during O-week when student homelessness typically spiked.
Almost 50 per cent of the university's cohort are postgraduate students, but they often receive less support from the ANU and are largely ineligible for government assistance, Ms Shaw said.
This year, the association used up its annual emergency accommodation budget in just three months as requests for help increased sevenfold compared to 2017. It was the first time the association had ever spent all the money, Ms Shaw said, and this week demand surged again as the mid-year intake rolled into the capital.
Vice-president Zyl Hovenga-Wauchope, who has himself long struggled to find a bed in Canberra, said he was already fielding accommodation requests and offering help dealing with "dodgy landlords".
"A group of students were just asked to pay six months rent up front for a place and we had to explain that's illegal," he said.
"We held a mixer for prospective housemates to help link people up and give advice, a lot were shocked at how hard it is here."
One Masters student, left temporarily homeless when she moved to Canberra from Western Australia, recalled sleeping on a friend's couch and finishing her first essay on a bunk at a hostel with just two bars of WiFi.
Kathy, a US international student, said her own exhausting six-week search for a rental only ended with a move across the border.
"I saw the same people over and over again at these inspections, including some on the brink of tears because they’d been rejected so many times," she said, sharing her story as part of a new exhibition by the association.
The university did not comment on whether it would grant the association's request for more emergency funding. Ms Shaw said most of that money would cover the extra $2500 it had spent helping 87 students find housing in the first quarter of the year.
An ANU spokeswoman said the university had agreed to take up a number of the association's suggestions including better aligning offer timelines with accommodation deadlines and increasing the provision of family-friendly housing.
"We take the accommodation issue very seriously and acknowledge the extraordinarily high occupancy rates in Canberra at the moment are impacting on our students," she said.
While the spokeswoman said the ANU was working closely with local realtors to provide advice to students on properties, Mr Hovenga-Wauchope said it could go much further, leveraging its place in the community to set up pipelines for students into homes.
In February, a survey of more than 700 postgraduate students at ANU found 57 per cent didn't have accommodation secured before moving to Canberra. Almost 10 per cent were homeless or at risk of homelessness at the time of the survey.
Across town, a University of Canberra spokesman was not aware of any students struggling to find accommodation. The university offers 2700 beds, 86 per cent of which are full.
About 755 of those are taken by ANU students, who are often directed to the university when their own campus accommodation fills up through an unofficial arrangement, the spokesman said.
View PARSA's student housing exhibition here.