Student accommodation: Cities face learning curve on rising numbers in third-level education

The opening of new on- campus and private student apartment complexes is barely able to keep pace with the rising numbers in third-level education.

There are 650 extra beds available at Maynooth University and University College Dublin for students this autumn. A further 3,000 spaces are planned at the five other universities and Dublin Institute of Technology by 2020, according to the Department of Education.

However, there is already an under-supply of 25,000 purpose-built student accommodation spaces.

The numbers in higher education are expected to rise by 20,000, or 15%, to 193,000 by 2024, and around half of them may require places to live.

By 2019 alone, total demand is projected to increase by nearly 6,000 to 63,000 bed spaces.

There may be between 8,000 and 10,000 spaces being planned or already under construction either by colleges themselves or by private developers nationally, which would bring supply to something over 40,000 beds.

That would just reduce the shortfall slightly to nearer 20,000 and some of those projects may not be ready for occupation until at least 2020. There is also no guarantee of all those coming to fruition due to planning or finance issues.

A number of private developers specialise in building and managing student accommodation, including some from overseas.

Dublin City Council required the developers of a new scheme in Dublin’s south inner city to provide evidence of an under-supply of student accommodation when the planning application was lodged three years ago.

Before the development was even complete, UK-based The Student Housing Company had filled all 471 spaces at the Binary Hub scheme in Bonham St within six weeks of opening bookings last March.

“Some rooms were booked direct by colleges and others went directly to students who had been on our waiting list for some time,” a spokesperson told the Irish Examiner.

It is already taking booking inquiries on another 450-space development at Dorset St — one of two others it is planning — more than a year before it will open doors to its first tenants.

Many colleges have borrowed to acquire and refurbish existing residential developments in order to guarantee additional space for their students. Last year’s Higher Education Authority (HEA) report encouraged a greater role for Nama to assist in provision of sites suitable for student residences.

A key recommendation was that any reviews of city and county council development plans take account of the growing student accommodation demand.

The Cork City Council development plan, revised earlier last year, requires that any existing student residential facilities can not be changed to non-student use without planning permission. But criteria for new student accommodation developments include the need to consider potential impact on surrounding residents — a big issue due to antisocial behaviour in some areas near both of Cork’s main third-level institutions.

The HEA also recommended continued flexibility by local authorities on how guidelines are applied to student accommodation specifications.

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