Monday 18 December 2017

Mitchell O'Connor warned of 'unprecedented demand' for student accommodation

Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Photo: Tom Burke
Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Photo: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The new minister for higher education has been warned of an "unprecedented demand" for affordable student accommodation.

Mary Mitchell O'Connor has been told of the "significant challenges" in addressing the issue, as parents and students face into the scramble to find accommodation for the academic year ahead.

The warnings come in a briefing prepared for the new minister by officials in the Department of Education in a section entitled 'key priority issues'.

They say there has been a significant increase in demand for third level places over the past decade and this is expected to continue beyond the mid-2020s.

The trend is said to have had a positive impact on the Irish economy due to the supply of skilled graduates for the labour market.

"However, this increase in student numbers, including international students, is creating an unprecedented demand for suitable, affordable, student accommodation," the officials wrote. This is complicated by the "very short time-frame" between the release of the Leaving Cert results, the CAO's allocating of college places in college courses, and the start of the academic year, Ms Mitchell O'Connor was told.

"Significant challenges" in addressing the issue include the availability of sites, access to finance and the cost of borrowing.

One example given is that institutes of technology are restricted in their ability to borrow to fund the building of student accommodation because such loans would be considered part of general government debt.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor was told that the department contributed to the development of the Government's Rebuilding Ireland action plan to tackle the housing crisis.

That plan highlights the importance of providing more student accommodation to avoid additional pressures in the private rental sector.

Last week, it was revealed that Ireland is short of 23,000 purpose-built student bed spaces to meet the demand from college-goers this autumn.

Education Minister Richard Bruton acknowledged the "challenging gap" between supply and demand yesterday as he launched the first National Student Accommodation Strategy to support delivery of at least 21,000 extra purpose-built beds by 2024. The report put demands for student beds at 57,075 this year, but just 33,441 spaces are available in dedicated student complexes.

Separately, Ms Mitchell O'Connor was told that the Student Universal Support (SUSI) system for administering the student grant scheme will process 150,000 applications for the 2017/2018 academic year. Around 80,000 applicants are expected to qualify for support.

Irish Independent

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