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'This is just the tipping point': The cost of being a student in Ireland has skyrocketed in the past decade

Students protested this week in UCD on more than one occasion about the high cost of rent.

THE COST FOR students to rent on campus in Irish universities has almost doubled over the past decade, with protests held earlier this week at UCD against further planned increases. 

The university plans to increase rents by the maximum amount allowed, 4%, in each of the next three years. 

Student union president Joanna Siewierska said that their protest was aimed at showing university management that they “cannot use campus residences as a fundraiser anymore”. That idea of third-level education as #NotaBusiness gathered momentum on Twitter with a number of politicians supporting the students in their protest action.

Among those was Sinn Fein’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin, who has requested meetings with university presidents to discuss planned increases to rent. He said high rents are a “barrier to education”.  

Analysis by TheJournal.ie has shown that it has gotten steadily more expensive in the past decade to be a student in Ireland. 

IMG_20200220_104341

In fees alone, it has gotten more expensive. From €1,500 in 2010, the student registration fee now stands at €3,000. Students not in receipt of a Susi grant must pay this fee. 

European reports have highlighted how students in Ireland pay among the highest fees in the EU

Alongside that rents have risen sharply. 

In the academic year 2009/10, the rent on the UCD campus cost from €3,808 to €5,324 from September to May plus utilities.

At the lower end, this would’ve meant a monthly rent of around €425. This rose steadily throughout the decade.

Accomodation at the Belgrove accommodation, for example, rose from €4,470 to €5,050 in 2014.

The cost of rent rose more sharply in subsequent years, exceeding €6,000 at the lowest end by 2017.

ucd 2016

For this academic year 2019/20, it costs between €6,745 and €11,591 in rent for the two semesters. Most students will be paying in excess of €7,000 to stay on campus. 

Even at the lowest end, that’s €749 a month, meaning that rents have risen 76% at UCD in the past decade. And it’s set to rise again. 

At Belgrove, this will rise to €7,948.47 by the 2022/23 academic year.

ucd academic year

It means that if a student was to rent in the Belgrove accommodation, the cost of rent plus paying student fees already exceeds €10,000 a year. This is up from just over €5,000 a decade ago. 

IMG_20200220_104240 Siewierska speaking to university management.

For a typical undergraduate degree, the total cost could be in excess of €40,000.

Other universities

The cost of renting in Trinity College Dublin is between €5,982 and €8,226. Some of its off-campus accommodation in Dublin city can cost as much as €9,500 or €10,000 for the academic year. It has also risen sharply in recent years, such as when it rose 12.4% between 2015/16 and 2016/17 alone.

In 2016, living on campus at Maynooth University cost between €2,600 and €4,900. This year, the cost of accommodation in Maynooth ranges between €4,600 and €6,370. This is also due to rise next year.

DCU campus accommodation costs between €6,252 and €7,001. Students there could rent on campus for around €5,000 back in 2015.

The cost of campus accommodation at University College Cork has also risen sharply in recent years.  The higher end cost €4,365 in 2051. This year, rooms cost from €4,029 to €6,179 for the academic year. 

The rates at NUI Galway range from €3,750 (for a twin bedroom shared with another) to €6,942.

At the University of Limerick, meanwhile, it ranges from €3,340.50 for a twin room up to €7,074 for a two-bed apartment.

What next?

UCD Student Union president Joanna Siewierska told TheJournal.ie that they felt forced to take on a more militant approach to the cost of rent given the university’s indication of how far rents will rise in the coming years.

“We’re seeing no support funds, no support for rent distress. Susi grants are not going up,” she said. “Students are not a homogenous group. Some don’t face the same pressures but a huge amount are forced to commute long distances or every day, or pay extortionate rents in the private sector.”

She said that in her role as president she frequently comes into contact with students who are struggling to pay rent or deal with the escalating cost of living, and that it was unacceptable for universities to be relying on students “as an income source”.

Siewierska said she and colleagues had made representations to the university management team in October, and outlined the impact that financial distress was having on students.

The decision was made to raise the rents regardless, and the student union president felt that they’d been “locked out” of that decision. 

IMG_20200218_095323

“I represent 30,000 students,” she said. “This was contrary to everything we’d talked about. We felt like they weren’t even trying to listen to us.”

Siewierska pointed to the #NotABusiness campaign which has gained momentum on Twitter, including support from politicians. 

Newly-elected Social Democrat TD Jennifer Whitmore expressed her support, saying: “The focus of any university should be on providing quality, accessible third level education, not on maximising profits from property to the disadvantage and exclusion of students.”

Her colleague Cian O’Callaghan TD said: “Good to see students getting organised against these rent increases.”

“The idea we’re not a business is picking up traction,” Siewierska said, pointing to a growing dissatisfaction with the “commercialisation of the sector”. 

This isn’t affecting just a small number of students. Young people with ambitions to do well all around the country are being faced with the possibility that they can’t go to third-level.

Siewierska added that she’d recently been asked by the University Observer if the rise in rents had been her “breaking point” in her role as president. 

She said: “My breaking point was the first time that a student walked through my door with a sleeping bag, and explained that they were sleeping rough.”

The political will to affect real change in the sector is something third-level education does need.

In their manifestos, both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael pledged to freeze student fees. In Fianna Fáil’s case, it said it would restore grants for postgraduate students and increase grants, as well as establish a dedicated government department for higher education.

Sinn Féin pledged to abolish third-level student fees altogether as well as increase student grants. 

But, at the moment, we still don’t know the make-up of the next government. And manifestos are no guarantee of what would happen if a party makes it into government.

In a statement earlier this week, UCD management said that a rent freeze would require the university to “freeze any further development of student accommodation”.

“It is our view that proceeding with these developments will contribute to longer term rent stability and potential rent reductions, and that it is in the best interests of our community overall to proceed,” it said.

What’s clear from this statement is that unless the individual universities themselves decide to – or bow to pressure to – reverse planned rent rises, students face little chance of a reprieve for now. 

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Sean Murray

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