State may part-fund construction of student beds on university campuses

Planning permission for thousands of purpose-built student accommodation shelved due to soaring cost of construction

The Government is considering part-funding the construction of thousands of student beds on university campuses which have been shelved due to the soaring cost of construction.

It comes as fears mount that student accommodation shortages will reach crisis levels in September due to a shortage of private rented accommodation, pressure to house Ukrainian refugees and delays to planned student apartments.

Latest data indicates more than 40 separate student accommodation projects have been granted planning permission which are capable of delivering about 10,500 bed spaces. Universities, however, say many of these projects have been put on ice due to the rising cost of construction. They argue that inflation would force colleges to charge exorbitant rents of up to €16,000 a year.

Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris is understood to be in talks with Government colleagues over the potential for State subvention of large-scale campus accommodation projects in exchange for guarantees over affordable rents.


DCU, which received planning permission for a 1,240-bed student village two years ago, said it has not been able to begin construction due to rising construction costs.

“Subvention of 50 per cent of the capital cost is the only realistic solution in order that rooms can be provided to students at an affordable rent,” said DCU president Prof Daire Keogh. “As inflation continues to rise and the expected increases in interest rates by the ECB are introduced, projects to provide accommodation for our students will become even more uneconomic for the university and the required subvention will rise.”

He said a decision on a subvention is urgently required as in the interim period the situation will only get worse. “The accommodation shortage for students is part of the wider issue of housing. More university residences is only one small part of addressing the housing crisis,” Prof Keogh said.

Most of the planned beds on college campuses will take a number of years to complete and students’ unions are bracing themselves for what they fear will the worst students accommodation crisis to date.

At the South East Technological University’s campus in Waterford the students’ union is in talks with local hotels because on-campus beds are fully booked and private rented accommodation is in short supply. The students’ union president Patrick Curtin said: “I think the accommodation crisis will be even worse than last year... [hotels] are not a long-term solution, but it is a fallback option for students who can’t find anywhere to stay.”

Josephine Feehily, chair of the governing body for Technological University of the Shannon (TUS), has voiced “extreme concern” over shortages of student accommodation next September due to the volume of private rented accommodation being occupied by Ukrainian refugees.

“We are extremely worried about the autumn because the private sector that would have provided accommodation in the past is now occupied and unlikely to become unoccupied in September, largely by – unfortunately – people from Ukraine. So we’re extremely concerned about where we’ll find capacity,” Ms Feehily told an Oireachtas committee recently.

She said students were increasingly dependent on transport to get to college or were resorting to couch surfing due to limited access to affordable accommodation. Student beds are not just a place to sleep, she said, but key to building a positive campus culture where students can join societies and don’t arrive “exhausted and then go home in the evening”.

The Government and universities, meanwhile, are planning to promote a rent-a-room scheme which allows homeowners to earn an income of up to €14,000 tax-free to help create additional accommodation options.

Mr Harris has also signalled that college costs could be cushioned by cutting the €3,000 student contribution charge in September’s budget, and improving student grants, availed of by 42 per cent of students.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent