O’Donovan must ‘push through’ new laws protecting student lease lengths - study abroad providers

Industry body says switch to 51-week lease model represents ‘an existential threat’

A representative body for providers of semester and summer-abroad education programmes has called on Patrick O’Donovan, the new Minister for Higher Education, to push through new laws ensuring the duration of student accommodation leases next year are confined to the academic year.

The Association of Study Abroad Providers Ireland (Asapi), an umbrella group representing some 30 organisations, welcomed the Government’s commitment to introducing the legislation before the summer recess.

However, it said a move by private student landlords to increase lease lengths offered to students represents an “existential threat” to the €220 million-a-year sector, which employs around 350 people directly.

It said also wants to see more engagement from the minister on wider issues around the accommodation of study-abroad students against the backdrop of a severe shortage of student beds and increased demand for places in Ireland from international students.


The Irish Times reported in January that Hines-owned student housing platform Aparto and UK-owned student landlord Yugo had both switched to obliging students to commit to uniform 51-week leases for the 2024/25 academic year, increasing annual rent costs for tenants.

The vast majority of students use such accommodation only for the college year, which tends to run for 39 or 41 weeks.

Mairéad Farrell, Sinn Féin spokesperson on higher education, said the situation developed on Taoiseach Simon Harris’s watch while he was the minister.

“He utterly failed in the area of student accommodation and this is the latest example of it,” she said. “The study abroad sector has been thrown into jeopardy by these vulture funds having requirements for 51-week leases despite the academic year only being 39 weeks.”

Speaking on Wednesday, Asapi co-chair Darragh O’Briain said the move would be a death knell for many companies in Ireland that partner with US universities to offer semester-long and summer study places.

Mr O’Briain, who is also academic director at International Learning Academy, said some companies have had to turn down business from the US this year, due to the decision to switch to 51-week leases and bed shortages generally.

“Universities and parents are not going to send their students abroad if they’re not guaranteed a bed,” said Asapi co-chair Claire McGowan, “or if they are guaranteed a bed but actually, it’s going to cost a lot more money now.”

Companies within the industry often source accommodation for their customers, acting as a buyer and seller of short-term student rooms, subletting to other study-abroad providers according to demand.

Karl Dowling, housing officer at Asapi and co-founder and chief operating officer of Big Pond Education, said: “This is very imperfect and problematic. But it’s something we are willing to do to help each other out.”

However, the switch to 51-week leases across the board would be an “existential threat” to the sector, he said, massively increasing accommodation costs for providers.

In one of his final statements as Minister for Higher Education, Taoiseach Simon Harris committed to introducing legislation to protect lease lengths before the summer recess. Mr O’Briain said Asapi welcomes the move.

“They deregulated the housing market and these guys were allowed to do what they wanted,” he said. “[Private student landlords] making serious cash so what we really need is the legislation to be pushed through. Push it through and then engage with us.”

This article was updated to reflect that Asapi co-chair Darragh O’Briain is academic director at International Learning Academy, not Dublin director at CEA Capa at stated on Asapi’s website at the time of writing.

Ian Curran

Ian Curran

Ian Curran is a Business reporter with The Irish Times