Students are being forced to travel hundreds of kilometres each day to get to and from college because of accommodation shortages, the Minister for Higher Education has been told in a string of complaints from parents.
A family who lived in a rural location told Minister Simon Harris that their son would have to commute a 540km round trip daily to attend college.
“While most of his class (the ones that are not homeless) attend lectures, he drives to attend, then sleeps on a floor and desperately searches along with his friends for a place to live,” the family said. It had been “truly heartbreaking to watch him”.
“If we had all the money in the world, we still wouldn’t be able to find him anywhere to live, it appears the places just don’t exist,” the letter stated.
The Irish Times recently reported on one student who took a daily 270km round trip from his home in Sligo to Letterkenny Institute of Technology, and dozens of letters of complaint from parents to Minister Harris showed this was far from an isolated case.
The letters sent to the Minister in late August and September, at the beginning of the new academic year, were released under the Freedom of Information Act. Almost 40 parents and students wrote to the Minister to express “abject disappointment and frustration” at the lack of housing available for third level students this term.
The student accommodation crisis appeared to be “particularly bad this year”, one parent wrote, explaining that their son had “horrific” experiences trying to “avoid scam attempts, getting no response to enquiries, being dismissed because they are students, and being forced to consider paying exorbitant rents.”
By not addressing the availability and cost of accommodation for students, who were “forced to compete on the open market”, the Government was “ultimately making access to third level an elitist endeavour,” the letter said.
One parent, who was spending €1,000 per month for their 19 year old daughter’s accommodation, said they “cannot understand how such costs can be justified for normal working people”.
“I’ve worked hard and saved over the years to cover education costs but the current rates are completely unsustainable.”
A father who described himself as a “modest lorry driver” told the Minister he was “desperate” to get his daughter to university, as he and his wife “never had the chance of doing college”.
The father said he “wished for my kid to have a better shot at life, but with no accommodation, she can’t go.”
Another family told the Minister they had tried to secure accommodation on and off campus for six months “to no avail”. The family eventually had to book their son into a hotel at a price of €450 for five nights at a time.
A “very concerned mother” who had spent more than two months searching for accommodation highlighted that students were now “sleeping in cars or on couches because there is nowhere else available for them”.
A first-year student told the Minister they “could never have anticipated the absolute nightmare” of trying to find accommodation. “The sheer volume of students in the same boat is nothing short of insanity,” the student wrote.
“It is a complete mess. Every day I have been ringing every single student accommodation complex office in the hope there has been a cancellation, but the answer is always the same. Everywhere is fully booked, with hundreds on waitlists.”
‘Practically a joke’
Those who hoped to commute instead found that public transport was “practically a joke for rural students and at best very expensive.”
One parent said their son’s mental health had been affected to the point they were in the process of “making appointments for him to see a therapist”.
The crisis in university towns was “highly preventable”, the family member of another student told Mr Harris, adding that the increase in student admissions without an increase in accommodation was “a transparent and frankly shocking way to increase homelessness among both students and other residents of these affected towns”.
Extreme competition already existed within the rental sector, exacerbated by holiday rentals, and many owner-occupied rentals often advertised rooms for five nights only, which was “the epitome of having one’s cake and eating it too”, they said.
"These young adults are the future of Ireland and they will sit in your seat someday too. We are begging you to do something quickly. Move some mountains, Mr Harris."
A spokesperson for the Department of Further and Higher Education said it was “acutely aware” of the challenges facing students in securing accommodation this year and was “working closely” with the Department of Housing to address the issue.
The challenge was “fundamentally one of supply” which the Government hoped to address by the Housing for All programme, the spokesperson said.