A shortage of accommodation is forcing people attending third-level education to sleep in cars, garden sheds, on sofas and in B&Bs , the Ministers for Education and Housing have been told in a series of complaints received from students and parents.
One student pleaded with the Department of Education to help them find accommodation as they were spending “five hours in traffic every day” to get to and from University College Dublin.
“I’m up at 6am to be in for 8.30am and the buses are always late, so I’m always late for class,” the student wrote. “I can’t find student housing for anything less than €500 per month for a room in someone’s house that I can’t even stay in during the weekends. Please help me.”
Writing to the Minister a week after their daughter began a course at University of Limerick, one parent said: “Student accommodation is a shocking disaster and so she is living in someone’s (literal!) garden shed”.
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They added: “It is well below standard but for the opportunity to be in university, it seemed worth it. The shed is shared and cramped with patchy WiFi ... This is all amounting to be a shoddy experience”.
Around 20 such letters, sent to the Ministers at the beginning of the academic year last August and September, were released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.
Recent figures from Irish universities show that accommodation for the nine-month academic year can cost upwards of €10,000 depending on location and type.
A cost-of-living guide issued for the 2022/23 academic year by TU Dublin states that annual rent would be €5,724, while a UCD guide said median accommodation costs would be €1,025 per month or €9,225 per academic year.
The University of Galway’s cost of living guide for students listed rooms in on-campus accommodation at a maximum of €860 per month, while a two-bed apartment (bills not included) was estimated at between €1,500 and €2,000 per month.
One parent writing to the Department of Education said their daughter was “delighted” to be offered a place in the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI) in Dublin, but that a room for the year would cost her €10,600.
“We were prepared to pay these monies but, when the booking needed to be completed and my daughter logged on, she was referred to [alternative] accommodation and that cost was €14,600,” they said, adding that this was due to the accommodation being for the full year rather than the academic year.
“How is this establishment allowed to advertise as student accommodation and yet be for a 49-week period?”
In late August, a student in Maynooth wrote that they had “tried everything possible to get accommodation within a reasonable commute” to the university, but that their search “has been fruitless”.
“I have looked with another two students and also by myself. There is simply nothing available. Any options are so expensive, myself and many other students cannot pay €850 per month,” they wrote, adding that a daily commute to and from Maynooth would take more than five hours.
“This is not feasible,” the student said, suggesting that online lectures be considered as a solution for those who cannot afford or find accommodation “but would like to finish their degrees”.
In September, the Minister for Education received a phone call from a constituent on behalf of their son who was studying at the University of Galway. The student was told the university “only had 2,000 places to accommodate students” and that he would not receive one of these.
The student was “left with the prospect of spending his academic year living in his car” in the university car park, the parent said.
One University College Cork student wrote to the Minister for Education a week before the academic year began stating that they still had nowhere to live. “I am now facing a six-hour commute daily to Cork or else my only other option is deferring my course and unfortunately this is the reality for a lot of students like myself across the country,” they said.
A parent of a Trinity College Dublin student said they found it “impossible” to find affordable accommodation in Dublin for their child. Another parent described their son’s life as a student as “sleeping on a friend’s sofa” and in B&Bs when possible at a cost of €90 per night.
“This temporary accommodation cost is not sustainable for me,” they said, given thousands more was being spent on fees for their son’s course “without any grant support”.
“I am deeply angered about the accommodation predicament my son finds himself in as he starts his third-level education. He and all the other students are supposed to be the future of this country of ours. What message is this crisis giving these young people? ... We have failed young people.”
In response to request for comment from The Irish Times, a spokesman for the Department of Housing said it was “clear that as a country we need to dramatically increase the supply of all types of housing and accommodation, including student accommodation”.
He said the Government launched the Housing for All plan, which sets out a series of actions to address the housing crisis, and that “work is ongoing with higher education institutes to ensure that more accommodation is built on and off campus, using cost-rental and other models”. He said the Minister for Further and Higher Education was working on a “new funding model for student specific accommodation”.