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Students commuting long distances risk missing ‘huge’ parts of college experience, warns university president

Some student digs at TU Dublin went unfilled this year despite demand for college accommodation

An increase in the number of university students commuting long distances means many are missing out on “huge” aspects of the college experience such as involvement in clubs, societies and social life, the president of one of Ireland’s largest universities has said.

Prof David FitzPatrick, president of Technological University Dublin, said more students were opting to commute for long periods rather than staying in digs, or rooms rented out by homeowners.

“The evidence we have last year is that there were unfilled [student digs] places last year, but that’s not the whole picture. Because I think a lot more students are electing to commute rather than move,” he said.

“One of the questions we need to be asking is how much time are students spending commuting? To go from one side of Dublin you can easily spend an hour ... what proportion of students are spending an hour and a half, two hours, or two and a half hours, each way?


“So, they’re not requiring accommodation, but the impact on everything is huge. If you’ve got a really long commute, then you’re also really missing out on all the other aspects of university life. You’re not engaged in societies or sports or hanging out with friends, because you’ve got to get the train.”

Latest official statistics indicate that Ireland has seen a rise in students commuting long distances for third level. The proportion of college students travelling more than an hour each way has climbed to 17 per cent, according to the latest census figures.

Prof FitzPatrick said the college is examining commuting patterns as part of its wider drive to promote sustainability.

These plans could include providing “hundreds” of affordable on-campus beds in the next phase of TU Dublin’s Grangegorman campus.

“In total, we’ve a population of more than 30,000 moving in and around Dublin, so our carbon footprint from commuting is actually big, so understanding it and the drivers of it, is something we’re keen to do. The biggest part of that is the student mobility.”

Prof FitzPatrick made the comments in an interview with The Irish Times marking the official opening of two major campus buildings at Grangegorman, which is now home to more than 10,000 students and 1,200 staff.

The investment will see the university consolidate all of its Dublin city activities on a purpose-built, state-of-the-art campus.

However, he said uncertainty in the commercial property market, coupled with a substantial increase in construction costs, are hampering plans for the next phase of TU Dublin’s development.

The sale of TU Dublin’s Aungier Street campus will be key to progressing the next phase of development. However, he said the rising cost of construction was “creating a tension” in doing so.

However, he said the university is in talks with the Government over finding alternative funding solutions for its campus development plans.

Until recently institutes of technology and technological universities - unlike traditional universities - were statutorily barred from borrowing funds.

However, TU Dublin is in talks with the Government over a loan model or borrowing framework which could fund a new indoor sports facility and on-campus accommodation for students and early-career researchers.

Prof FitzPatrick also said the university is working on expanding pathways to access more of its courses for school leavers outside the CAO system.

He said there are also ambitions to create more flexibility for students to move courses, or combine aspects of courses, as well as expanding its “lifelong” learning offering.

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