Student accommodation in Ireland, a changing landscape

By Niamh Banks, ASRA Communications and IT Officer, and Residences Supervisor at Maynooth University

As the start of the academic year is upon us, it is only natural that the topic of student accommodation has very much been in the news in Ireland. With annual ‘exposés’ of sub-standard student accommodation, particularly in the private rental sector, going viral and the students’ union talking of the difficulty many students have in finding somewhere to live, it’s a very hot topic indeed.

For many years the vast majority of students lived in rooms on campus or in a variety of flats and bedsits in residential areas. There have been some private providers running student accommodation near educational institutions but the amount of purpose-built student accommodation as we know it today, has been very limited in the Irish market to date, particularly in the capital, Dublin.

This has put a strain on an already difficult private rental market with students vying for rooms with professionals and families. Viewing times get booked up very quickly and it is not an uncommon sight to see queues winding their way out of front doors and even around nearby corners.

On 20 July, the Irish government launched its first National Student Accommodation Strategy, which is a joint initiative between several government departments including the Departments of Education and Skills and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. It is part of the ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ plan which is aimed at tackling the national housing shortage. Ireland’s so called ‘lost decade’ of building saw the number of homes built drop by over 90% from 2006 which has left the country with a large deficit in the residential market.

There are many key objectives in the programme which aim to decrease roadblocks to development and to increase the number of PBSA beds by 21,000* by 2024 which is a big jump from the current number of just over 30,000 beds*. Other aims include:

Looking at financing options in relation to PBSA in conjunction with institutions of higher education and the housing finance agency;

Looking at the PBSA delivery model and the possible extension of it to more Institutes of Technologies;

Continued work in identifying land for development which will include input from stakeholders;

Working to increase access to student accommodation for groups such as lone parents, student parents and students with disabilities.

Increase the availability of PBSA for students with increased number of nomination agreements;

Promote the importance of being a good neighbour to the student body through working closely with the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and students’ unions at local level;

Further developing relationships between USI/local students’ unions and accommodation offices in higher education institutions in attempting to ease the difficulties students face in searching for suitable accommodation;

Continued investment in USI with the appointment of the Student Housing Officer and continued funding for the #homesforstudy campaign aiming at increasing the number of students living in digs in private homes;

It is hoped the plans will address the current projected shortfall of over 20,000* beds for students in the current academic year. The plan is a long time coming, even if the motivation behind it is just as one part of a much larger national strategy as opposed to a direct desire to further the student accommodation sector in itself. The result will hopefully be that students nationally have increased access to custom-built student accommodation that understands the needs of the students. There are many studies to show the benefits to students of living in purpose-built, student-focused accommodation and it important that the needs of students are kept in mind, as well as ensuring they receive both a quality service and quality place to live.

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