State funding to help universities build student residences under Harris plans

Five universities have planning permission but are not building as current model ‘not viable’, Minister says

Simon Harris has revealed he plans to bring proposals to Cabinet next week to provide millions of euros in State aid that would allow colleges and universities build their own residences to help ease the student accommodation crisis.

The Minister for Further and Higher Education would not be drawn on the exact level of State investment but said he was anxious to press ahead with the plan as there are currently around 4,000 student accommodation places nationally that have planning permission but are held up due to funding issues.

“I expect it to bring proposals in the coming days to Cabinet as to how we can get our colleges and universities building again, starting in the first instance with colleges and universities that have planning permission,” he told reporters in Cork on Thursday.

“So, there are five universities that have planning permission today to build student accommodation that aren’t building it. That’s not a criticism of them – they found that the current model isn’t viable. I’m trying to step in here and see if we [the Government] can make it viable, quite frankly.”


Speaking during a visit to the Cork Educational and Training Board in Bishopstown, Mr Harris said that, notwithstanding the fact students were not insulated from the worst inflation since the 1970s, he believed providing adequate accommodation was the biggest challenge facing students.

“I do think the biggest challenge students face is the cost of accommodation and that is what is motivating me is trying to bring forward a new model of student accommodation where for the first time we would financially support universities to build student accommodation.

“I think this is key, we need a lot more of it, I think there’s a double benefit – it provides the student with more affordable college owned accommodation, but it also frees up homes that a student might be trying to rent that a family may also be competing with in the rental market,” Mr Harris said.

Mr Harris said that he had already been briefed by Cork City Council management on student accommodation projects in the city during a courtesy call to Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Deirdre Forde earlier on Thursday and he was encouraged by what he had been told.

“My understanding is that there are around 1,900 student beds with commencement notices, so currently under construction [in Cork City] – that is encouraging in terms of increasing the overall housing supply in Cork, and the accommodation pool available to students.”

Mr Harris said that after assisting universities with accommodation projects already with planning permission, his next priority will be to look at the new technological universities that have not been able to borrow to build student accommodation.

He offered the example of the recently formed Munster Technological University, pointing out that its two constituent parts, Cork Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology Tralee, had never built any student accommodation as they had not been able to access the borrowing framework.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times