The Irish Times view on the accommodation crisis: students deserve better than this
Long commutes, financial pressures and unsuitable accommodation do not provide an acceptable foundation for academic achievement
If students and their parents anticipated that stress levels would fall once CAO points for third-level courses were distributed this week, they may have miscalculated. Many young people are now facing the challenge of finding an affordable place to live during the academic year and, with an anticipated shortfall of 25,000 bed spaces, competition will be intense. Student unions have warned that the bulk of purpose-built, on-campus accommodation has already been taken.
The situation is getting worse. A growing number of third-level students and an acute shortage of properties to let have pushed ordinary rents into unaffordable territory. In some student residencies, rents rose by as much as 15 per cent last year.
And there have been complaints that new accommodation blocks, under construction, are being built with wealthy foreign students in mind. Because of cost and availability, the number of students forced to commute from home has been rising rapidly. It reached 69 per cent last year.
Legislation to impose a rent cap on student accommodation was recently brought before the Dáil by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. In response, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar undertook to deal with the issue later this year. In the meantime, the Government will promote the use of “digs” and the rent-a-room scheme.
College authorities and student unions offer advice on the costly and frequently frustrating process of finding a place to live. Existing on-campus accommodation is unlikely to meet even 50 per cent of anticipated demand. So students are provided with lists of reasonably priced rooms and digs, which are frequently more appropriate to the needs of young people leaving home.
The student grant system, Susi, provides a maximum payment of €3,000 to eligible applicants. That sum will not meet the cost of renting accommodation but, in cases of particular financial difficulty, hardship grants may also be awarded.
Money issues are the biggest concern of parents at this time, according to a survey conducted by the Irish League of Credit Unions. Rental costs alone can vary from €430 to €540 a month, depending on the locality, before travel, food and educational materials are taken into account. These pressures force students into part-time work. Rising rents generated protests in Dublin and Galway last year. There was a further demonstration in Dublin recently.
Some 3,000 dedicated spaces were built during the past two years; 7,000 are under construction and a further 7,000 are at the planning stage. In spite of that, third-level colleges expect that shortages will persist. Long commutes, financial pressures and unsuitable accommodation do not provide an acceptable foundation for academic achievement. Students deserve better.