Thursday 25 December 2014

Housing crisis forcing students to put off college

Students from as far away as Clare, Cork and Galway will be forced to commute to Dublin

WAYNE O'CONNOR and JOHN DRENNAN

Published 31/08/2014 | 02:30

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan
Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan

Students are being forced to give up their dream of studying in Dublin because they cannot find anywhere to live, the Sunday Independent has learned.

The shocking revelation arises as the Government comes under mounting pressure to intervene in the deepening housing crisis in the capital.

And according to student union leaders, third-level students from as far away as Clare, Cork and Galway now face the nightmare prospect of having to commute to Dublin to attend college.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA) last night admitted this was the first time it has witnessed students being forced to put off college because they cannot find accommodation.

A number of students who spoke to the Sunday Independent said they simply had no choice but to defer their college courses for another year.

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Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin last night called on the Government to intervene immediately to provide accommodation for students.

He told the Sunday Independent: "The crisis in housing availability for students needs short-term solutions not long-term aspirations. It is unclear as to whether they have even set up a review into this issue. It is very worrying that all of the progress in opening up access to higher education in the last decade, particularly for the working poor, is being derailed because of an entirely foreseeable accommodation crisis."

Leading property website Daft.ie estimates that thousands of students are still searching for accommodation in Dublin, just weeks before 16,000 first-years are due to begin courses.

Daft.ie marketing director Kieran Harte said there are 40pc less available properties in the capital compared to the same period last year, which has led to a 17pc increase in city-centre rents.

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"We have seen a 45pc jump in the number of email enquiries for August. The numbers are into the tens of thousands and we are assuming that this is affecting the thousands of students who have just received their CAO offers," he said.

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan conceded that students are facing difficulties finding accommodation, but despite evidence to the contrary, insisted there was no proof that students were deferring college because of the housing shortage. Rebecca Rees from Co Clare, is among a number of students who spoke to the Sunday Independent this weekend who confirmed they were forced to postpone their courses in the capital because they could not find anywhere to live.

The minister admitted the Government had no immediate solution to the problem, saying it could only be addressed "in the medium to longer term".

She told the Sunday Independent: "The Government is committed to addressing the housing shortage through the Construction 2020 strategy. This will not resolve all of our problems immediately, but I am confident that the implementation of Construction 2020 will provide us with a sustainable housing stock in the medium to longer term."

First-year students are worst hit by the crisis, as many would only have been able to look for accommodation after the CAO results were issued.

'I can't take up my UCD course because I have nowhere to live' 

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) warned the housing shortage will lead to an increase in college dropouts. It urged the Government to give the green light for the construction of student accommodation near Dublin's major colleges. USI Welfare Officer Greg O'Donoghue said: "Students are beginning to defer courses. I've heard of students who would have had to travel from Cork or Galway and eventually drop out if they can't get accommodation.

"The Government really should be building purpose -built student accommodation close to campuses. What is there is usually gone within two hours of it becoming available. It doesn't give first- years a chance and they need it the most."

HEA head of policy Muiris O'Connor advised students to take up college places this year even if they cannot find suitable accommodation, and warned the problem could be even worse next year.

He told the Sunday Independent: "We would not encourage students to defer their education on the basis of accommodation because demand for education will continue to increase and the demographic of the number of Leaving Cert candidates will also increase each year for the next 15 years,"

DCU and DIT said they have not yet noticed an increase in deferrals, but said students are putting off courses due to financial pressure.

Trinity College said that they could not comment because their registration period is not in line with other institutions. A UCD official, who did not want to be named, said the deferrals could be attributed to students who do not want stay in digs.

Sunday Independent

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