Student reaction to rent hikes ‘emotional’, says UCD president

Rent on Belfield campus has increased by more than 40% in recent years

UCD president Prof Andrew Deeks. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

UCD president Prof Andrew Deeks. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Students in University College Dublin have reacted “emotionally” to a proposed increase of on-campus rents by 12 per cent, university president Professor Andrew Deeks has said.

On Thursday students held a sit-down protest outside a meeting of the university’s governing authority over proposals to increase rents over the next three years by the maximum allowed under rent cap laws.

Prof Deeks defended the decision as necessary to cover the increasing costs of running campus accommodation, and to help fund plans to build accommodation for 3,000 students on the south Dublin campus.

“We’re not out to make money from the students, we’re out to put additional student residences into the market,” he said.

“The way you solve the housing crisis is building more houses, you don’t solve a housing crisis by putting caps on rents, you don’t solve a housing crisis by subsidising people to pay rents, all that does is push up the rents.”

Prof Deeks said while students had reacted “quite emotionally” to the increase, he had discussions with the students union on Thursday “to allow us move forward in partnership”.

The most expensive student accommodation rooms on the Belfield campus are set to increase from €8,815 a year to nearly €10,000 under the plans. Accommodation in the other student housing blocks would increase from €7,114 to €8,000 for the nine-month academic year.

The price hikes come on the back of previous increases in on-campus rent over recent years.

Cash cows

Commenting on the previous increases, Prof Deeks said in the past the university was subsidising the running costs of student housing.

“Clearly there was a point in time where the university had to re-evaluate after the dramatic austerity cuts [in third-level State funding], and you can see following that there is an increase, because there is a realisation that these costs need to be covered,” he said.

Prof Deeks said the university would review the proposed 4 per cent rent increases each year, but played down suggestions the rates would be altered.

“Certainly this year 4 per cent is absolutely necessary; it’s difficult to see that it won’t also be necessary in subsequent years.”

Students had felt caught “off guard” by the latest rent increases, which the university could have communicated “a little bit better”.

Aoife Mawn (21), deputy editor of the University Observer campus newspaper, said there was a growing perception among students they were being used as “cash cows”.

Míde Nic Fhionnlaoich (20), a second-year student living on campus, said she would not be able to afford the increased rents next year.

“I could barely swing it this year … It’s just so unaffordable. I think there’s a massive disconnect between the people making these decisions and the people affected by them,” she said.

In the 2013-2014 academic year the cost of a room in the cheaper accommodation was €4,901, and €5,971 in the more expensive housing. These rates have been increased by more than 40 per cent over the past seven years.