Wednesday 22 October 2014

Points? College spot? Now for finding a place 
to live

Graham Clifford

Published 24/08/2014 | 02:30

Deirdre Sheahan, from Beaufort, Co Kerry, all packed for Trinity
Isabel Russell from New Ross, Co Wexford

With reports of a major accommodation shortage, Graham Clifford spoke to students on the hunt for a home away from home.

From the peace and serenity of the stunning Gap of Dunloe to the bustling streets of the nation's capital, life is about to change dramatically for Deirdre Sheahan.

The 17-year-old, from Beaufort in Co Kerry, learned this week that the 585 points she received in the Leaving Certificate were enough to secure a place on the European Studies course at Trinity College.

Like thousands of students, the former Intermediate School Killorglin pupil waited for months to get her exam results and then weeks until the college places were revealed. But now she faces a wait of a very different kind.

"My hope is that I'll get into the college residence at Trinity Hall. They only have something like 600 places and it's not on a first-come first-serve basis. You have to write a personal statement explaining why you'd be a good addition to the residence. Next Tuesday I'll log on and find out if I've been successful," says Deirdre.

Even college-based accommodation rates are high. A standard room in Trinity Halls can cost in excess of €4,500 for the full academic year while a single en-suite room within an apartment will set you back approximately €5,500. In addition to rental charges there are separate utility costs - estimated to come to around €500 over the course of the student year. And that's before food, books, college material, socialising and transport costs are included.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) say some first years could be paying around €700 a month for basic accommodation in Dublin. The average grant payment works out at €84 per week for those who qualify.

For students who study in towns and cities located long distances from home, the option of commuting doesn't exist. Finding the right place can be stressful for students and parents alike.

This week property website daft.ie claimed there are 40pc less student rental properties now compared with 12 months ago.

"If I don't get a place in the college halls, I've been advised to contact student services who'll try to help. I really hope it doesn't come to that. I have an aunt living out in Kinsealy, so I could stay with her if the other options fail," says Deirdre.

If she's unsuccessful in getting a place in Trinity Halls, Deirdre's father Vinnie said it might just be a case of jumping in the car, driving up to Dublin and "knocking on doors".

He told Weekend Review: "Where do you start looking? We've been told the city centre apartments are often poor in quality and are fierce expensive."

Deirdre's parents set up a savings fund for her third-level-education 10 years ago and while it will cover the majority of costs of the first year in Trinity, it's unlikely to stretch too much further.

"I don't know how people could afford to pay for their children's college accommodation and education without some savings really, it'd be an awful hit in the pocket without something put away," says Vinnie.

It's 304km from College Green to Deirdre's home in Beaufort, so trips home may be less frequent than she or her family would like.

"I suppose for the first few months I'll come home a good bit but of course train travel isn't cheap even with a student railcard," she says.

Her father jokes that it might be cheaper for her to fly from Dublin to Kerry.

Mark Stanton, president of the UCC students' union, says there's much less cause for alarm on Leeside than there is in the capital. "A figure was put out that there was a 7pc increase in student rent costs in Cork. We're hoping landlords here don't put up their prices on the back of that. There's plenty of space in Cork and while it may be a bit harder to find the ideal accommodation now, those accepted on to courses here will find somewhere to stay."

The accommodation crisis is also less severe, some say non-existent, in cities such as Limerick and Galway.

In New Ross 18-year-old Isabel Russell, who's due to start her business and arts course at the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology on September 8, says the search for accommodation has been very stressful.

'I was up in Dublin looking even before I got my place. Every bedsit and apartment is being snapped up and some places which look great on property websites can be horrible when you go to see them," she explains, adding: "I'll be sharing with my boyfriend, Adam, to half the costs but even still places in Dublin are really expensive.

"He's hoping to get work to support me through college. It's really causing me great anxiety and I'm finding it hard to sleep with the worry, I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that we get lucky."

Families sign up to offer students digs

More than 140 homeowners nationally have signed up to an initiative by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) to get them to rent out a room and offer digs to incoming first-year students.

In Knocknacarra, Galway, the Cooke family decided to take in a student this year for the first time after listening to the USI initiative being discussed on radio.

"My wife and I were listening to a segment on the accommodation shortage issue on Today FM and decided to advertise our spare room.

"It's sitting there and so we thought this could be of use to someone and it would help us out financially too."

The en-suite bedroom will cost the successful student €100 per week and comes with both breakfast and an evening meal.

With three small children aged eight, five and nine months, the Cookes believe they could offer a student a homely environment in which to share their college experience.

Homeowners interested in offering digs or renting out a spare room and students looking for accommodation under the scheme can view properties at 
www.homes.usi.ie.

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