No Keys No Degree: Nationwide shortage in student accommodation

Muiris O'Cearbhaill

A major shortage in student accommodation is quickly turning into a nationwide crisis, as many students have still yet to find a place to stay near their desired college. 

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) demonstrated outside the Dáil last Thursday. The demonstration, named “No Keys, No Degree”, saw members of the USI and other student unions, including Ross Boyd, VP for Community and Citizenship on DCUSU.

Representatives protested and slept outside the Dáil as a call to government to provide capital funding so that colleges can build and renovate their own student accommodation.

The USI are also calling on the private purpose-built student accommodation complexes to retain their locations for the students themselves, and stronger rental control.

Claire Austick, President of the USI, told the College View that they want additional course spaces in parallel with additional living spaces so the influx of students have a place to stay.

Aisling O’Mahony, President of Munster Technolgical University Student Union, said “The government are encouraging more apprenticeships, more third level education, new courses, and they don’t have a bed to sleep on.”

O’Mahony added, “If they’re going to give them a bed, they’re going to rob them blind.”

Austick said the USI were there to express their “outrage, anger and disappointment in the government for not tackling the student accommodation crisis.”

Austick added, that there are thousands of students are commuting for hours or staying in hotels and hostels for the year. “It’s not good enough. It’s preventing access to education.”

According to Austick, this is been an issue for the last decade which needs a long-term and sustainable strategy from the government.

Minister for Housing, Darragh O’Brien, met with the University of Limerick Students Union last week to discuss “serious challenges” that students are experiencing while searching for accommodation.

Minister O’Brien called the shortage an “immediate and very serious issue” and agreed that there is no short-term solution. Many student unions are contacting local hotels near their campuses, to inquire about rooms for students.

Róisín Burke, president of Mary Immaculate Students Union, said that MISU reached out to local hotels in Limerick to enquire if they would offer reduced rates to students.

Burke told The College View that many hotels told them of the packages that are available however added, “Although we reached to hotels to inquire about student rates, we did not negotiate any rates, which has been widely misreported.”

However, Aisling O’Mahony said that the packages hotels offer to students can be costly, leading to some students in MTU are sleeping in their cars.

John Randles, Accommodation Manager in Mary Immaculate College, told RTÉ last week that the plan to have students staying in hotels was “not ideal” however the college felt that they had no other option.

Lee Johnson O’Reilly is a first year student in Limerick I.T.. Lee, originally from Meath, contemplated not attending L.I.T. and attending a college closer to home.

Lee told The College View, “I’ve had no luck getting any student accommodation…I’m going to stay in a hotel for probably two or three weeks and I’m going to try and find some affordable accommodation.”

Claire Austick said “It’s not what students want. It’s not an ideal situation. Ten years ago, the government said there was no short-term solution, if they had put a long-term plan in place… we wouldn’t be here.”

Ross Boyd told the College View, “It’s important for me to be here today… to show how terrible it is that DCU students are not able to get accommodation and have to resort to hotels and hostels.”

Boyd said that ‘luxury’ purpose-built student accommodation is being offered at “extortionate” prices and echoed the USI’s calls to reduce this problem with affordable purpose-built student accommodation and rental controls.

O’Mahony said, “At the moment in Cork there are private accommodation complexes popping up…They’re building the complexes then charging extortionate rates for sub-standard accommodation.”

O’Mahony believes that students are not on a level playing field in as private complexes advertise ‘luxury’ and target international students on scholarships who are in the position to afford it.

Aine Fahy, a second-year student in DCU, said that she paid for private student accommodation close to campus in May of 2021 for the current academic year. However, the company contacted Fahy late in August to tell her the accommodation she had paid for was no longer available.

Fahy added, “I joined four or five waiting lists… and eventually got another place, it was €100 more a month than the original location I had and it’s further away from DCU, but I didn’t really have a choice.”

Randles believes that the number of available “digs” has declined due to worries regarding the spread of COVID-19. However, O’Mahony said, “Digs have declined throughout the years. It’s not the way forward for student accommodation.”

Muiris O’Cearbhaill

Assisted research from Seán Jevens

Image Credit: The College View