The University of Hong Kong will have to subsidise more than 300 foreign students' off-campus lodgings until its new halls of residence are finished.
HKU is looking for short-term hostel accommodation in Chai Wan, Sai Ying Pun and Shek Tong Tsui.
The response to an earlier appeal to staff to give up a spare room for a "homeless" student was "not very good", according to student union president Dan Chan Koon-hong.
Two of the four blocks in the university's compound in Lung Wah Street in Kennedy Town will be ready next Thursday, in time for 970 students to move in for the start of the new academic term on September 17.
But the other two would not be ready until mid-September to late October, meaning 830 students would have to stay elsewhere, the union said.
Of those students, 500 were locals, while the rest were from the mainland or overseas, Chan said.
"The university said they might find places for the foreign students in the neighbourhood," he said.
A university spokesman said it was not clear how many would need the short-term help. The university will hold a press conference today.
Undergraduates pay about HK$12,000 a year to share a double room and HK$16,000 for a single room in the halls of residence. Postgraduate rates range from HK$19,000 to HK$24,000.
Foreign students had been given priority because "we cannot let baggage-lugging freshmen become homeless on arrival in Hong Kong", Chan said.
"We local students understand this, and agree that non-local students should get a place to live in first."
The halls will accommodate 1,800 students and were expected to be ready in time for this year's double intake of students due to reforms in the education system.
Delays have also hit Polytechnic University and the University of Science and Technology, but the problem faced by non-local students at the HKU is the most acute. Only 48 per cent of dormitory applications made by non-local students were accepted last year, the lowest among all publicly subsidised universities.