Katherine Donnelly: 'Rent caps will ease pressure but there must be fairness too'
Growing demand for higher education and a housing crisis in the cities put university students in the eye of a perfect storm.
School-leaver numbers are on the rise - and that upward trajectory will continue for almost a decade - with college applications rising alongside them.
Grotty student flats have been part of Irish higher education history but at least it was a roof, a bed, a hob, a kettle and, generally, convenient enough for college.
Nowadays, much of the traditional student accommodation in the private rented market has been gobbled up by those who can afford to pay more, and for 12 months rather than nine, or has been reinvented as family homes.
Living on campus is a relatively new concept in Ireland, and is a popular option, but the universities are playing catch-up in meeting demand.
Developments currently under construction will mean a big increase in on-campus beds next September and that may help to moderate rents.
A raft of new private apartment blocks exclusively for students have popped up, in Dublin particularly, but rents are relatively high.
Much of their value is in acting as a valve in an overcrowded market and housing growing numbers of international students, who may be better able to pay.
So, whether on campus or on the high street, it's a landlord's market.
There is some positive news for students in that recent changes to legislation bring purpose-built student accommodation, whether in college or in the private market, under the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB).
From next week, the rent increase restriction under the Rent Pressure Zones - currently an annual maximum of 4pc - will apply to student-specific accommodation and students will also have recourse to the dispute resolution services of the RTB.
That heralds a level of rent predictability, but even an annual increase of the maximum allowable, 4pc, would not be acceptable if it was not justified.
We can expect the Union of Students in Ireland to be vigilant on this front and keep colleges in check when it comes to charging.
Universities see the provision of on-campus accommodation as both a necessary service to students and a revenue stream, at a time when Government funding per student is half what it was 10 years ago, and are borrowing to do it.
A few years ago, a Higher Education Authority report on student accommodation put the cost of building a bed space at €85,000, with refurbishment costs estimated at €10,000-€20,000 over 10-20 years.
The same report noted that level of income generated by the university sector from student accommodation is predicted to more than double from €51m in 2014 to €120m in 2024. Students should not be expected to contribute more than their fair share to that.