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Parents 'should hold off' on booking student accommodation

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The Covid crisis has destroyed the summer jobs and part-time work that students traditionally rely on. Stock Image

The Covid crisis has destroyed the summer jobs and part-time work that students traditionally rely on. Stock Image

The Covid crisis has destroyed the summer jobs and part-time work that students traditionally rely on. Stock Image

Parents have been advised to hold off on booking accommodation for third level students until there is clarity around the calendar on campus.

Many are already being pressured by landlords to pay deposits to secure flats for their offspring when no-one knows how universities and institutions will structure the next academic year.

Rose Conway-Walsh, Sinn Féin spokeswoman on Higher Education, said she would advise parents to “hold off” on paying deposits or making other lodgements, as it was unclear how physical classes would be held.

Some universities could decide on having one week of in-person lectures per month, she pointed out, while warning of the looming unaffordability of college for many.

The Covid crisis has destroyed the summer jobs and part-time work that students traditionally rely on, while access to SUSI grants is calculated on gross income – with parents’ purchasing power in reality devastated by the disease and its wider effects.

Ms Conway Walsh said she knew of parents who were being contacted by providers seeking a deposit of €6,000 for accommodation, with people running the risk of being tied into leases for €1,000 a week when only one week’s tuition might be provided in a month.

“It’s a case of ‘Find Norma’ (Minister for Education Norma Foley) and get her before committee to answer questions. In the absence of a clear direction around it, there's no (parents shouldn’t pay advance monies) because these are the same students who were robbed by many accommodation providers at the beginning of Covid.”

Paid-for accommodation went a-begging with the closure of classes, and parents, students and politicians had spent an awful lot of time chasing up the return of money, she said.

“In the end, some of them got their deposit back, but very many of them didn't, and they have they have had their household income reduced since.

“Now they're being demanded more money for something they don't even know that they’ll need.”

Over 1,000 students responded to a Sinn Féin survey on third level, with 80 per cent concerned or very concerned that college will prove unaffordable.

Even if they initially take up the offer of a place, Ms Conway-Walsh warned of an unprecedented wave of drop-outs because of the myriad challenges.

More than three quarters (77pc) cited financial stress and anxiety within their families, she said. Others told how the SUSI system excluded them or was not enough to cover the costs of their third-level education.

Many students provided supplementary information in response to the survey. One said: “This is no country for the children of hard-working parents.

“I worry about my parents’ health. They work long hours, never take care of themselves and always put us first. Yet after all that, their son will most likely not be able to afford to attend third level education.”

Many students are excluded because SUSI is assessed on gross income rather than net. “So the income tax, USC, PRSI, mortgage and accommodation costs paid the previous year are all lumped in, as if these households have this money available to meet what are the highest fees in the EU.”

The Government must make the system fairer by calculating on net income, and enabling SUSI to be more flexible in order to respond to the real-time financial situation in households.”

More than half of students said they had been unable to get work this summer, she said, starving them of funds they were relying in to pay for college – with little prospect of securing the usual part-time work on which they might rely while carrying out their studies.


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