Boost in student numbers set to add to accommodation squeeze

Concern over the shortage of bed spaces on campus is finally hitting the political ranks

The scramble for student accommodation is expected to be worse than ever this September, and an analysis completed by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) shows there will be no respite for the next decade.

Concern over the shortage of bed spaces for students is finally hitting the political ranks, and three years after the scrapping of section 50 tax relief for the building of student accommodation new incentives for developers are back on the table.

Following a request from Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan, the HEA has completed an examination of the existing stock of student accommodation and projected demand.

Student numbers at third-level are expected to increase from just under 168,000 in 2014 to over 192,000 in 2024.


In the same period, the proportion seeking accommodation is set to increase from 34 per cent to 36 per cent, based on plans by the State’s seven universities to the boost their international student intake.

UCC president Dr Michael Murphy points out that Irish universities are competing with institutions in Britain, Australia and elsewhere which provide "decent accommodation guaranteed. So it really is an important determinant of competitiveness."

UCC is planning to boost its international student cohort from 14 per cent to 20 per cent, while NUI Galway has set a target of 25 per cent.

However, the HEA projects that the biggest squeeze on student accommodation will come in Dublin due to the competitive private rental market, and an acute shortage of on-campus housing.

The authority projects that the number of available bed spaces for students will rise nationally from 31,296 in 2014 to 43,496 in 2024, based on planned college developments and “known plans of private developers”.

However, even if these are completed on time, the growth in demand will leave Ireland in a stand-still situation with a projected shortage of 25,182 beds in 2024 compared to 25,808 last year.

While the HEA report has yet to be finalised, it is understood to recommend the establishment of an inter-departmental working group to examine new incentives along the lines of section 50.

This was abandoned in part because of abuses of the scheme whereby student accommodation was sublet to non-students.

Dr Murphy said a “simpler” incentive would be a zero VAT rate on student accommodation, something he proposed to Taoiseach Enda Kenny when he visited Cork this month.

The UCC president told The Irish Times that construction of student accommodation "will not take place in the near future or at the pace that is needed without an incentive of that type".

He said the figures don’t add up for developers as “it’s more attractive for them to do business with non-students”, given they typically rent for 12 months rather than eight or nine in the year.

At Dublin Institute of Technology, manager of campus life Brian Gormley says they were "block booking as much accommodation as we can" before the September storm.

“We are seeing people holding on to accommodation for the summer just so they won’t be stuck.”