Students want accommodation shortages declared an ‘emergency’

DCU criticises Government plans as student housing construction deemed ‘uneconomic’

The Government must declare shortages of student housing and high rents an emergency as students consider deferring or dropping out of college, the Union of Students of Ireland (USI) has said.

Students held a demonstration outside the Dáil on Wednesday as part of an overnight sleep-out and campaign dubbed “No Keys, No Degrees” to put pressure on the Government to take urgent action.

The protest took place as one of the country’s largest third-level institutions criticised Government plans to ease the housing crisis and warned that escalating construction costs were making student accommodation “uneconomic” and beyond what students could afford.

“There are thousands of students across the island staying on couches with friends and family, who are looking at staying in hostels, B&Bs and hotels,” said Clare Austick, the president of USI.


“It is not good enough. Many students are even considering deferring the year or dropping out because it is such a huge issue. It keeps getting neglected and it feels like they are overlooked.”


Ms Austick said some students were being forced to “couch-surf”, which means they must constantly find new places to stay, while others are having to commute up to two hours each way, she said. Where students find accommodation, they have to find part-time jobs to pay the high rents.

Dublin City University said it was experiencing "unprecedented" demand for on-campus accommodation with at least four applications for every bed space available on campus, adding that local hotels and B&Bs were being used by students as a stopgap that it said was not sustainable.

Daire Keogh, president of DCU, said demand was "far outstripping supply" and this would "inevitably create a family-income-based barrier for entry into higher and further education.

“A sustainable solution is urgently required to enable the sector to provide additional affordable student accommodation,” he said.

“This will necessitate creative solutions and incentives to make the construction and maintenance of new student accommodation economic and enable universities to offer accommodation at an affordable price.”

DCU said escalating construction costs mean that it had become "simply uneconomic" for universities to build student accommodation, even with the availability of low-cost loans from the European Investment Bank and the Housing Finance Agency.

The Government plan to extend borrowing facilities across the third-level sector as a solution to the supply was based on a “false assumption”, the university said.

Ms Austick said that DCU’s concerns highlighted the severity of the crisis.

She called on the Government to set out plans to build more purpose-built student accommodation over the next five years or else face “an even worse situation” in five years.

Caoimhe Walsh, welfare officer at UCC Students' Union, said that she has been contacted by students commuting from as far away as Waterford and Kilkenny to Cork every day.

“I got the train up this morning at 8am and I got four calls by the time I got to Dublin from students looking for accommodation. There is nothing. Then when you find something, it is €700 a month for a tiny little room,” she said.

‘Digs’ accommodation

Ms Walsh said the availability of “digs” accommodation in households had declined due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while many landlords decided not to rent houses to students this year because they moved out last year when colleges closed and moved to remote learning.

Senator Rebecca Moynihan, Labour's housing spokeswoman, called on Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien to consider a cost-rental system to provide more affordable accommodation through third-level institutions.

She urged the Government to introduce stronger planning guidelines to prevent developers turning purpose-built student accommodation into apartments for tourists.

“Students should not have to sleep out to show the Government just how dire the situation is. Student accommodation is something that could be and should be planned for,” she said.

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said third-level institutions need lower-cost finance to fund student accommodation and transfers of public land close to city-centre campuses on which to build.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times