Many stakeholders in higher education seem to think that college-owned accommodation is synonymous with low-cost accommodation.
In an interview last week, President of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Clare Austick argued that “if colleges have their [own] accommodation there will be a reduced cost” – but is this really accurate?
And should student representatives be framing the college-owned flats as the saviour of students looking for affordable accommodation?
The past few years would indicate that colleges are hardly the answer to rising rent prices. The accommodation they provide is rarely cheaper than what students could get elsewhere, and there is hardly a strong-enough incentive for universities – already cash strapped – to provide truly affordable accommodation.
Trinity’s campus accommodation can easily exceed €7,000 per academic year, with Trinity Hall not far behind in price. Some on-campus accommodation at University College Dublin (UCD) is set to rise to almost €14,000 per academic year under planned rent increases.
Exorbitant rental expenses are part and parcel of Ireland’s dysfunctional housing market at all levels. The failure of the government to come up with a solution to student housing shows an indifference towards students’ needs.
The government’s upcoming Housing for All plan must feature a long-term sustainable plan for student housing, which directly addresses the gaping hole in accommodation provided for students.
More college-owned accommodation at lower rates should, of course, be part of this, but it’s hard to see it as the answer to the problem, considering universities appear to currently approach student accommodation as a way to make money.
It has been well reported that Ireland has the highest student fees for higher education in the EU, but with Dublin being the fifth most expensive city in Europe to rent a home, it is not just fees that are pushing students out of higher education. Studying in the capital is increasingly becoming limited to those who live in the county or who can afford to rent there.
Student representatives in USI – and Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris – reach for college-owned accommodation as some kind of silver bullet. Certainly, universities should step up to the mark to make student housing more affordable. But the evidence at hand makes it easy to be cynical.