FRUSTRATED students held a rally at University College Dublin (UCD) today against a decision made by the university to increase on-campus accommodation rates by 12pc over the next three years.
The demonstration follows a proposal by the college to impose a rent increase of the maximum 4pc for each of the next three years after the cap was applied to student apartments last August to ensure rent predictability, in the same way as it does in Rent Pressure Zones (RPZ).
The increase means students at UCD are facing some of the highest on-campus room fees in the country, with apartments available from €6,000 to €9,150 once the 4pc is applied.
Up to 100 student protesters marched from UCD's Student Centre to the Tierney Building, where a meeting between the university management team and UCD President, Professor Andrew Deeks was due to take place.
Students' Union (SU) President, Joanna Siewierska delivered a statement at the meeting on behalf of the SU and two other student representative groups, and a petition against the rate increases signed by 2,000 students.
The petition also calls for the university to deliver a reduction of on-campus accommodation rent, a commitment to deliver cheaper accommodation, and for the establishment of a student rental-assistance fund for students who are renting both on and off campus.
Ms Siewierska said she is expecting a formal response from management, but if the SU’s demands are not met they expect to “continue escalating” their protests.
“Not only have we been locked out of that decision making process, our demands have not been responded to in two weeks.
Student Míde Nic Fhionnlaoich, from Connemara, Co Galway, said she may not be able to return to on-campus accommodation if the 4pc price hike is introduced because she “could barely afford it this year”.
“I lived on campus this year, in one of the cheapest accommodations available in UCD. I pay €7,500 for an apartment that didn't have heating for two months, during November and December, an apartment that had mice.
“We don't have ovens. We're already paying above and beyond what anyone else is paying in this country, and they want to raise it again,” she told the Irish Independent.
If she fails to find suitable accommodation, Míde said she will be “begging” family and friends to let her stay in their home.
“Family, friends, going through the entire grapevine and begging people to take me in. This is the situation for so many students of, if I don't live on-campus next year, or if I can't find somewhere to say, I don't know what I'm going to do.
“Even when people do get accommodation, it can leave people in a really precarious position because they are living in digs and they're afraid that if they annoy their landlady landlord, they'll just throw them out in there because they have no rights.
“This is the reality for thousands of students on this campus already with the rents the way they are and it's only going to get worse if they're going up.
“People coming from Mayo or Tipperary, or every end of the country has already sacrificed so much just to come here in the first place. And it's just a continuing struggle for everyone who want to pursue an education here,” she said.
“I asked for a formal response. We got a few words from our university president just acknowledging our presence in the meeting.”
Ms Siewierska told the Irish Independent that students feel like they are being treated as “cash cows” for the college.
“We already feel a bit like cash cows on campus, we already feel like the way decisions are made, were being treated, where we feel that management is trying to maximise the income that can get out of us,” she said.
“That's not what we're here for. We're here for an education and we have a right to that.
“We want to see 12pc rent increase stopped. We want to see that student housing crisis properly addressed by our university and not exacerbated for our students."
She said accommodation prices are a barrier for students looking to attend UCD.
“Every year around September time and CAO time, we have families calling us in the Student Union, and I'm sure they call the university to say, look, my child worked so hard, but I just can't find a room, not within our budget.
“This is affecting really young people and their families from outside of Dublin the most, and we don't even have those voices here today.
“Those are the people that couldn't even make it here. And it's definitely something especially with the campus increase, you know, students who are on campus accommodation this year, it's a question that they have to address; Will I be able to keep covering this rent next year? I'm going to look to the private market, or do I have to transfer?
“These are real questions that students and families have to address and it's not fair. It's not fair.
“Education is a right. Locking access to it with these decisions is unacceptable by the management of a public institution.”
UCD previously told the Irish Independent that it was applying the cap to secure adequate funding for the maintenance of existing accommodation and the provision of 3,000 new beds, 924 of which will be available in September.
The Irish Independent has contacted UCD for comment.