Accommodation crisis has a social cost

 

Sir, –Carl O’Brien (“Student accommodation crisis has a social cost”, News, September 25th) starkly illustrates the dire situation faced by third-level students in relation to the current severe shortage in student accommodation. This is further exacerbated by the shortage in available properties in the private rental market, not to mention the prohibitive cost of rent and a perceived discrimination towards students in that sector. The accommodation crisis is causing immense stress to students on top of the many pressures and distress of the past year and a half.

The situation is not reserved to third-level students. Graduates and many others face a similar experience in struggling with the mercenary nature of the housing market. This is having far-reaching consequences and a much wider social, employment and educational cost than is currently being measured.

For example, securing a full complement of fully qualified teachers is one of the most critical challenges facing school principals presently, particularly in Dublin. Anecdotal evidence shows that teachers are giving up full-time teaching positions and taking lesser contracts outside of Dublin because of the socially impaired housing market and the excessive cost of city living. School principals are left rejigging timetables in desperate attempts to plug gaps and find teachers to teach subjects. In some cases, subjects have had to be withdrawn because of the inability to find a teacher.

Eminent educationalists have pointed out in this newspaper of record that a teacher supply problem has been allowed to develop to a crisis stage in recent years. So while the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on weaknesses in our system, we knew this crisis was developing and the adverse effects would simply worsen.

In the backdrop to the OECD report Education at a Glance 2020 which once again ranks Ireland in last place out of 36 countries for investment in second-level education and as we listen to the many vested interest groups jockey for position in the lead-up to the budget, more than ever it is time for some serious political and moral courage in planning for the future. In dealing with the crisis in teacher supply, for example, bold action needs to be taken to alleviate the extortionate cost of teacher training for student teachers. A Dublin weighting allowance should be urgently examined for teachers and other key workers to help pay for high costs in accommodation, transport and childcare.

It is time for policymakers to stop tinkering around the edges with crucial issues. These are serious times and we need serious action. It will be more meaningful than an extra bank holiday and we owe it to our young people. – Yours, etc,

JOHN McHUGH,

Principal,

Ardscoil Rís,

Dublin 9.