Minister vows action on student housing shortage

Work is to begin at Government level to find ways to remove more than 25,000 students from the private rental market, five months after the Department of Education was alerted to the campus accommodation shortfall.

Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan is setting up an inter-departmental group of officials from her department, the Higher Education Authority (HEA), and three other government departments. It will examine proposals in a HEA report on existing and projected supply and demand for student accommodation.

Despite a planned near-trebling of public investment in dedicated student rooms to €1.2bn in the next decade, mainly by the universities, the HEA predicts a miniscule impact on unmet demand for bed spaces.

The projected capital investment would barely keep pace with rising enrolments, meaning the number of students needing to rent in the private sector is expected to fall from a figure of 25,808 to 23,159 by 2019. However, the figure will rise again to 25,182 by 2024, but these estimates assume the colleges’ plans proceed smoothly.

“The actual timescale for new beds coming on stream will be impacted by a number of factors, including the planning process, access to finance, delays during the build, etc,” says the report.

The HEA provided its figures to the Department of Education last spring but officials deemed the work was not ready at that stage for publication.

The report was published yesterday by Ms O’Sullivan who committed to begin addressing the issues. However, Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue said her response was inadequate.

“As students in major cities across the country are in desperation trying to find accommodation, the best the minister can offer is a working group being established to consider the report which she has been sitting on for five months,” he said.

The minister’s spokesperson rejected the comments, saying Ms O’Sullivan had not seen the report or any draft, until this week. He said an early draft, with figures that had yet to be validated, had been shared with department officials.

“The department assisted the HEA in a consultation process with other departments and bodies, namely the Department of Finance, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government, and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund,” he said.

Ms O’Sullivan said the steering group will ensure third-level colleges have access to information on new potential funding and delivery models. It will develop the report’s recommendations, which include capital financing, tax and planning issues, and support for the rent-a-room scheme.

“I am beginning work straight away with Government colleagues and stakeholders to explore ways to increase the availability of student accommodation where needed,” she said.

She is giving €30,000 to the Union of Students in Ireland to progress short-term solutions, including the expansion of its website for homeowners with rooms to rent.

Mr McConalogue said she could take immediate action by giving colleges funding to provide campus accommodation, and this would also help them raise revenues.


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