Cost and shortage of student housing set to rise

Problems finding or affording accommodation could be worsened by growing numbers of students travelling farther to college.

Despite restriction of the availability of grants to study away from home, analysis of official figures reveals the proportion of grant recipients qualifying for those higher funding supports is on the rise.

While 47% of those who got a grant in 2012 were on higher rates because they studied at least 45km from home, it went up to 50% in 2013 and to 52% in the past college year.

The figures suggest a rise of more than 2,600 people who receive this ‘non-adjacent’ rate, to nearly 30,000 out of 58,000 who got a grant.

The non-adjacent grant rates are 2.5 times the standard levels, and worth €5,915 to students whose families earned less than €22,703 last year.

A student from the same home gets €2,375 if they study nearer home, but the distance to qualify for the higher rate was just 25km up to 2011.

More than two thirds of grant recipients get either these special rates or — for those with household incomes up to €39,875 — the next level of €3,025 or €1,215, which is also decided by distance from home to college.

The numbers in each category can not be compared for each year, as Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi), whose figures the Irish Examiner’s analysis is based on, has added significant numbers of grant renewal applicants each year since taking over the system in 2012.

The trend emerges as more than 23,000 people accepted courses offered yesterday by the Central Applications Office (CAO). It made places available to more than 52,000 people, including more than 39,000 who got Leaving Certificate results last week.

However, as thousands start trying to find accommodation, Daft.ie’s latest rental report shows above-inflation increases continuing, although annual rises are less than in 2014.

The average cost of a room in a three-bed house is up 10% to €498 a month in Dublin, and by 9% in Cork and Galway cities to €301 and €270 respectively.

Limerick City rents are up 8% to €237, and the €210 average in Waterford city is 7% higher than a year ago.

While a continuation of the non-adjacent grant trends may increase demand, report author and Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons said supply is as tight, if not tighter, than a year ago in Dublin.

“This reflects a continuing lack of construction at a time when the population is growing,” he said. “In addition to addressing high construction costs, which are impeding all forms of supply, policy makers also need to examine whether accommodation specifically designed for students suffers from additional barriers to supply.”

It is unclear if Susi’s figures reflect more rural students qualifying for grants because of falling farming or other incomes, or more people deciding to travel to more distant colleges.

Union of Students in Ireland president Kevin O’Donoghue said it could worsen an existing accommodation crisis. But, he said, with recent studies putting the cost of studying away from home at €11,000-€12,000 a year, even the top grant rates only cover a fraction of what students need.

“Even for those deciding to commute that 25km to 45km instead of renting, there are not enough supports,” he said. “People are forced by economic issues, instead of educational ones, to decide what and where they study.”

The Department of Education’s 2011 increase in the distance from home to college to qualify for non-adjacent grant rates was partially justified by public transport improvements. Mr O’Donoghue said that while that may be applicable to the greater Dublin region, it took no account of how long it can take to reach some regional colleges due to poor or non-existent commuter services.

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