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We’re facing the prospect of students turning down college places because they can’t afford to survive

The student accommodation crisis is a barrier to education, and it needs action now, says USI president Kevin Donoghue.

Kevin Donoghue

I WENT HOUSE hunting with a friend the other day. She was looking to move closer to town for a better social life and to be closer to college. She and two of her friends decided they wanted to live together. They had a budget, and a fairly basic set of requirements for their prospective new house.

On the way to the house she told me that the budget had gone out the window when they saw there was little or no accommodation available unless they were willing to pay more. They had been searching for about 4 weeks and were still no closer to finding somewhere suitable to live. She and her friends had revised their budget numerous times, knowing that unless they upped the amount of money they were willing to spend, along with reducing their standards, they were never going to find somewhere to live.

The estate agent had scheduled her viewing for 6pm, and had another at quarter past the hour. Alternating between glances at google maps and the houses on the streets we eventually decided that we had arrived at the right place. From the corner of my eye I saw two men, who may have just finished work, walk round the corner. Both were looking around themselves, and I got the distinct impression they would also be viewing the house. Hot on their heels were two young boys, who could well have had their leaving certificate results in their pockets. An older lady, who I figured was the mother of one or other of them, was rushing along behind them.

Someone pulled up beside us and jumped out of the car with the standard estate agent’s folder in his hand. He quick stepped his way to the door, mumbled an apology about his tardiness, then opened the door to the house and invited us in to take a look around. He left the door open and retired immediately to the corner, phone in hand.

In all around twelve people came to the six o’clock viewing, most of them prospective tenants. The house was not ideal – apart from the obvious fact that it house suffered badly with mould and that the third bedroom was more like a second broom closet, much of it was in poor condition.

This was my friend’s sixth viewing in four days, and that didn’t include her hopeful housemate’s excursions. On the way back to town we got a coffee and she went into detail about her struggle.

Impossible

Her experience is one many students across the country can identify with at the moment. There is less accommodation available and landlords wants more money for reduced quality. Getting suitable accommodation close to college is nigh on impossible, which means that you have to be willing to spend hours each day commuting. Add a commute to the fact that many students are holding down a job to support themselves through college, along with the fact they need to study, and the situation often becomes nearly unmanageable.

For many students, housing is increasingly becoming the most difficult part of college. The lack of supports is only compounding the issue. Cuts to grants and the student assistance fund have been particularly difficult to stomach. While the grant has not been cut in the last two years inflation and rising rents mean that it is covering less and less every year.

Postgraduate students in particular are suffering. There are no maintenance supports available for postgrads, something that is particularly worrying in an economy increasingly focused on the highly qualified worker.

At €12,000 per year the cost of college here is the second highest in Europe. We have predicated our entire recovery on the “smart economy” without very many smart decisions. We are facing the prospect of some students turning down places in college due to the fact that they simply cannot find a place to live. The lack of accommodation is becoming a barrier to education, which is something that is of grave concern. The accommodation issue has to be addressed, and soon.

However, there is no one size fits all solution to this. Long term, we need more purpose built student accommodation. In the medium term we need to address the shortfalls in supports. With student numbers set to increase every year for the foreseeable future a lack of action now will ensure that this is a problem that gets worse before it gets better.

Kevin Donoghue is from Mayo and is President of the Union of Students in Ireland.

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