Monday 20 January 2020

Lack of beds is making our students easy prey

Education Minister Richard Bruton Photo: Steve Humphreys
Education Minister Richard Bruton Photo: Steve Humphreys


The first leaves of autumn have scarcely touched the ground, and already the warnings are coming in about students being ripped off through exorbitant rents, or outright fraud, as the dire shortage of Third Level accommodation is exploited.

Last month, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, the new minister for the higher education sector, was given a briefing on the shortage and the stress it is causing.

Ireland is short of 23,000 purpose-built student bed spaces to meet the needs of college-goers this autumn. The scramble for accommodation is a perennial headache.

The scarcity is creating unprecedented opportunities for con artists to swoop on the softest of targets. This has to be stamped out by bringing in the harshest penalties for those guilty of defrauding.

Having a thriving higher education sector has played a critical role in the economic recovery. It is also a key reason for our success in attracting foreign direct investment. To stop students being bilked, we must bridge the gap between the number of beds needed and the number on offer.

This year, 57,075 are required but only 33,441 spaces are available in dedicated student complexes.

The race for a place to rent is hardly helped by the short space of time between the release of the Leaving Cert results, the CAO's allocating of college places in courses, and the start of the academic year. This creates a very narrow window generating peak demand to find somewhere.

Education Minister Richard Bruton has acknowledged the "challenging gap" between supply and demand. Some 21,000 extra purpose-built beds are pledged by 2024.

Unless this commitment is met, we are simply making fair game of students and presenting them as easy prey.

Setting the bar high for a World Cup to savour

On August 5, three years ago, a group of Irish women did something that no national team had done before. They beat the mighty All Blacks - Black Ferns, to be precise - laying down a formidable marker for their male colleagues, and one for which they would require a further two years to accomplish in Chicago.

Today, the curtain goes up on the Women's Rugby World Cup. If the bar has been set high for expectations it is because they have set it so themselves.

Every team in every tournament grapples with peaks and lows - whether they get out of the valleys to savour the view from the summit depends on character.

It also depends on the ability to learn the lessons along the route to the top. Dr Claire Molloy has taken over as captain after Niamh Briggs was cruelly forced out.

According to head coach Tom Tierney: "The squad are very excited to get the tournament under way."

And so say all of us.

Two-time Fifa Women's World Cup champion American Mia Hamm once said: "I am building a fire, and every day I train, I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match." Well we already have enough matches to guarantee that the tournament will get off to a blazing start and raise roofs north and south.

To all 12 teams it is worth remembering that it doesn't really matter if you set out as an unknown; what counts is that you make sure that the finish is unforgettable.

Irish Independent

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