College choice 2015: How to find student accommodation

Consider digs or staying at home, and most importantly start your search soon

 Dromroe Village student accommodation  at University of Limerick. Living on-campus is the ideal solution for many first-year students. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Dromroe Village student accommodation at University of Limerick. Living on-campus is the ideal solution for many first-year students. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

Today, the Leaving Cert Class of 2015 will find out where they’ll start college in September, and many thousands will begin looking for accommodation.

The search is always difficult for students, but this year will be more fraught than usual. With this in mind, the following tips may be useful for students and their families as they consider their options:

Stay at home The most popular option for Irish students is to continue living with their parents. In Ireland, 40 per cent of full-time undergraduate students live with parents or relatives, double the number that stay at home in the UK.

There are significant advantages to this approach, not least of which is the financial saving. The DIT Cost of Living Guide shows that living at home can save more than €4,000 per year for students and their families.

Irish students who live with their parents are certainly not unhappy with their living arrangements. The 2009 Eurostudent Survey showed that Irish students living at home were the most satisfied of any students surveyed in 27 countries. They are twice as likely to report they are very happy with their living arrangements as those who live on campus.

The downside to living at home is the length of the commute. Many students make good use of their commuting time, and use apps and mobile computing to study while travelling. However, commuting can make it more difficult to integrate into college life. If you are commuting, be sure to fit student sports or society activities into your schedule.

For many students, however, commuting is not an option, and if that’s the case there are other choices.

Digs or home-stay

One of the solutions to address the accommodation shortage in the short-term has been to promote the home-stay or “digs” option to students. The popularity of digs has declined consistently since the 1970s. In 2000, one in 10 students lived in digs, but by 2009 this had decreased to one in 50.

Perhaps surprisingly, surveys show that students living in digs are more satisfied with their living arrangements than those living in on-campus accommodation.

From a cost point of view, it’s certainly a cheaper option than renting, with a five-day rental including meals averaging €100-€150 per week, and usually this includes all bills and free wifi. With rental accommodation in such short supply it might be an option for students to use digs for their first year.

Most college accommodation services or students’ unions will have lists of accommodation, including the digs option, and the Union of Students in Ireland have started a website that lists available accommodation at: homes.usi.ie

Rental accommodation

Private rented accommodation is in short supply, but here are a few tips to give you a better chance of getting a roof over your head.

Get looking as early as possible, and check as many sources as possible: college accommodation service; students’ union offices; websites such as daft.ie, myhome.ie and collegecribs.ie; local newspapers; college notice boards or Facebook groups; and word of mouth.

It’s more difficult to find accommodation for a person on their own, so join up with some like-minded individuals on your search. Have references ready, and also a deposit, but don’t pay the deposit until you’ve viewed the house.

The Private Residential Tenancies Board a useful check-list and advice for students renting for the first time at: prtb.ie.

On-campus accommodation

Living on-campus is the ideal solution for many first-year students. No commute, excellent study and social facilities, and a good support network available through resident assistants or the accommodation office. On the downside, residence halls tend to be priced at the top end of the market.

Although most colleges reserve rooms for first years, places can be hard to come by, and you should contact the college as soon as possible to confirm your room.

As for future demand, if projections for growth in student numbers are correct – and the bulge in our primary and secondary school numbers would seem to indicate that they will – the squeeze on student accommodation will continue for the next couple of decades.

In 1995 a similar shortage of student accommodation occurred and was addressed by introducing Section 50 tax breaks for on-campus accommodation. Although this approach had its critics, it was highly effective.

Prior to 2000 only 4 per cent of Irish students lived on campus. Within six years this figure had quadrupled, and 17 per cent of Irish students lived in purpose-built student accommodation, adding 20,000 bed-spaces for students very rapidly.

Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan is awaiting a report which will make recommendations to address the shortage in student accommodation.

The president of University College Cork has called for the introduction of a zero VAT rate on the construction of student accommodation. This is similar to the approach in the UK, and might make accommodation projects more feasible and assist in keeping rents down for students.

The report and its recommendations will be awaited eagerly by all in the sector.

Brian Gormley is manager of campus life at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), and is completing a doctoral thesis on student accommodation in Ireland. DIT is currently at the design stage for three new student accommodation blocks on the new campus at Grangegorman.