Sinn Féin spokesperson on Further and Higher Education, Rose Conway-Walsh TD, has said this year provides the clearest evidence yet that students have been let down by the failed housing policies of successive governments.
Teachta Conway-Walsh said:
“Almost everyone in the state has been touchd by the housing crisis. Despite having the highest college fees in the EU, accommodation remains the greater challenge for many working students and families on low and medium incomes. This particularly disadvantages students from rural areas.
“This is having a profound effect on access and how equal our education system really is.
“Reports this year suggest accommodation is more difficult to find than ever and some students may be forced to defer courses as they are unable to find somewhere to live.
“It has been the policy of successive governments to rely on the private market for student accommodation. Over a ten-year period where colleges were starved of funding, Fine Gael provided private student accommodation developers with €87 million in public funds in the form of tax breaks.
“Despite this handout, no criteria for affordable rent was included and no department monitors the cost of purpose-built student accommodation. Millions in public money and the government seemingly doesn’t care how much students are charged.
“We have now seen large student accommodation complexes being given permission to operate as tourist accommodation on the bogus claim that is not enough demand. The reality is they most students can’t afford to live in high-end purpose-built student accommodation and these landlords are unwilling to lower the rent.
“Colleges need to be supported to build on-campus student accommodation. In the last 5-years only 679 beds have been added in on-campus student accommodation. This has completely failed to keep up with increasing student numbers.
“Universities can access sustainable loans from the European Investment Bank via the Housing Finance Agency. But they have been starved of core funding meaning that they cannot make the most of opportunities to borrow at cheap rates and invest in on-campus student accommodation.
“On top of this, we have a situation where our public colleges rely heavily on revenue from international students to make up for underfunding. To attract international students, colleges give them priority for on-campus accommodation. This has led to a situation where up to half of all on-campus student accommodation goes to the more lucrative international students.
“Institutes of Technology and the new Technological Universities have been left in an even more difficult situation as they have not been given the ability to borrow independently and the government have simply not provided anywhere near the capital investment they need.
“The Housing for All plan talks about the need for IOTs and TU to have access to finance for student accommodation but says nothing about on-campus accommodation in universities were some of the most acute demand exists.
“Housing for all doesn’t seem to include students. Sinn Féin would invest in our colleges and build publicly owned student accommodation that students can afford.”