Thousands of third-level students are sleeping on couches, paying market rates for hotel rooms or deferring their entry to university due to a severe shortage of student accommodation.
Student unions have reported a massive surge in the number on waiting lists for accommodation or who need help with finding private property to rent.
The lack of supply of accommodation has been highlighted by student representatives across the country.
Among the factors that are behind the shortage are homes that were previously occupied by students being sold during the pandemic and the decision by some students in 2020 to defer college until this year.
The general housing crisis is making matters worse.
Councils granting permission for student accommodation to be used instead for short-term letting has also been identified as a serious concern, which Government officials were last night discussing.
“For accommodation to be removed from student use at a time when there are significant student accommodation shortages runs contrary to the aims of the National Student Accommodation Strategy and is deeply disappointing,” Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said.
Waterford Institute of Technology’s student union estimates more than 10pc of its entire student population is struggling with accommodation.
It reported at least 1,000 on waiting lists for college rooms or looking for help to locate private accommodation.
“It’s absolute shocking. We’ve never seen numbers like this ever,” WIT student union president Rachel McCartney told the Irish Independent.
“We’re a little under 10,000 students and having 1,000 of them without accommodation is appalling.”
Trinity College Dublin, said its accommodation service reports the waiting list for Trinity Hall, the building in Dartry where first years students stay, is the longest it has been.
All Trinity’s rooms are now occupied or on offer to students, a spokesman said.
“Trinity is aware that students can struggle to access affordable accommodation in Dublin and our Accommodation Service does all it can to help,” he added.
Trinity student union president Leah Keogh said while there has always been accommodation issues this is the worst it has ever been.
“We’re at breaking point now. At this point it has become a huge barrier to education,” she said.
“Some, including first-years, are ending up in luxury student accommodation they don’t want and can’t really afford.
“Those from economically disadvantaged areas aren’t gaining access to education because of this.”
At Dublin City University (DCU), there are 500 on the waiting list, according to the student union.
“We have seen students booking into hotels for a few days a week or sleeping on couches. Even in cases where money is no object they can’t find a place,” said Terence Rooney, president of the students union.
“This year it’s been worse than ever.”
He said he was aware of students who have chosen not to attend college this year due only to being unable to find a place to live.
At Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) more than 2,000 students are awaiting accommodation – 1,750 in Galway alone.
Today the Union of Students in Ireland is to host a ‘sleep-out’ protest in Kildare Street, Dublin, to highlight the issue.
Micheál Martin said yesterday there were limits to what the Government can do to resolve the student accommodation crisis.
“In the immediate here and now it is challenging. We acknowledge that and there are limits to what we can do but we’re going to explore any options that are there potentially to help students in the current crisis,” the Taoiseach said.
He said a range of measures was announced in the recently published Housing For All plan to increase the supply of homes.
“It’s a real crisis for young people. I’ve said that we can’t solve it all overnight,” Mr Martin said.
“The whole country has to be focused in terms of getting additional housing supply into the country to deal with a whole range of issues that manifest as a result of the crisis we’re currently in.
“One of those issues is accommodation for our students, and also in terms of rental accommodation and the cost of that.”
Sai Gujulla is a third-year biomedical engineering student at NUI Galway and is staying in a shared hostel dorm in the city after struggling to find accommodation.
The 19-year-old and his family previously lived in Galway but moved to London several years ago.
However, when he began first year, he said, there was no difficulty in securing rental accommodation and the cost was much more reasonable – about €400 to €500 per month.
This year he has been unable to find a room to rent so he is staying in Galway city in a shared hostel dorm, which costs €120 a week.
“All the on-campus accommodation was booked out in January – that’s what the accommodation office was telling us. I literally couldn’t find any accommodation,” he said.
“At the moment I’m living in a hostel and I can’t do any of my assignments or anything. I’m just travelling between the library and my hostel every single day and trying to get my stuff done basically.
“We don’t have desks or chairs. It’s just a bunkbed with six people in the room and the room is the size of a normal master bedroom that you would find in a house.
“We’re all squashed in together and you don’t even have space to sit down anywhere to do something – everything has to be done on your bed.
“The bathroom is shared by 10 people as well. The people I’m staying with are students and they are in the same situation.
“I’m just trying to look every day on Studentpad and Daft.ie but I’m still having no luck because as soon as something is posted it’s gone or else the rent is too high.
“Some are asking for like €900 a month just for a single room with a shared bathroom and kitchen.
“There should be proper guidelines on how much rent a landlord can expect to get from a student because some of the rooms are not even worth €900 per month.
“What some landlords are doing is splitting a single room in half to make two rooms and then charging student €900 each.”
He said colleges could help out students, adding: “The university should support students as well and should give them an option of blended learning so they could stay at home and not have to look for accommodation all the time.”
He said his family were frustrated.
“So many times my mom was like, come back home we’ll transfer you to university here,” Mr Gujulla said.
“I just felt like it’s not helpful to be moving universities now and especially in the UK they don’t accept you in as a third year because it’s a bit too late to transfer – so you can get stuck in the middle.”