When I got the offer in my CAO to go to N.U.I Galway to study science, I didn’t really think about anything, bar the course and the university. These were my primary concerns at age eighteen and leaving school, on to my next chapter. Over time I have absolutely fallen in love with this city. From the unique atmosphere, the communal feeling and the university itself. I absolutely drew the long straw. University life is hard to rival. You are free from your parents, you pick your own bedtimes, you can party all night long and hopefully you’re studying something that you enjoy.
However, in recent times there has been an ever-growing issue facing students and their families: accommodation. The student accommodation crisis has been on people’s’ radar for many years now. It affects the students, their families and their university choices. I know from first-hand experience of the challenges facing students today and how little our government seems to care.
Recently, here in Galway, a purpose-built student accommodation (Cúirt na Coiribe) sent a letter to each of the current tenants. It stated that the rent of the apartments would be increasing by a massive €1000, or 18% of the current cost. This was done during our exams, when students are already stressed enough without having to wonder how they will come up with this extra expenditure, with a week to go before applications became available. On top of this, Cúirt is one of the last accommodations to offer places to students, meaning all other options were exhausted. This was extremely unjust.
What followed was a campaign by the NUIG students union to combat this. I really have to commend the members of the union: they stayed up many a late night drafting petitions, contacting lawyers and TDs, organising a protest, etc. I have the utmost respect for their efforts. We marched during our exam season in order to protest our dissatisfaction with the rent hikes and also our disappointment with the governments aid for us (there was of course none).
No student should be given so little notice about a change so large to their rent and no student should have such a stress placed on them whilst studying and sitting their exams. Absolutely no one should be subjected to this bullying by a group of cowboys, who care about little else than filling their wallets. They have no empathy for struggling students.
Around the same time in Dublin, Shanowen student accommodation for DCU announced a monumental 27% price increase for its rent for the upcoming academic year. How can anyone be expected to put up with this? It is extortion to say the least.
The government has been less than helpful. They failed to write and impose properly worded legislation that prevented issues like these from arising. I wrote to multiple ministers such as the Minister for Higher Education, Minister for Education and the Minister of Housing. Only half of these representatives of Ireland replied to me and were honestly less than helpful. However, my attention was drawn to the amendment of the Residential Tenancies Bill 2018.
In summary, this bill proposes to
- Limit rent increases to 4%/annum for student accommodations
- Prevent hikes and changes like the ones aforementioned
Whilst I would like to consider myself an optimistic person and would be confident in the future being of Ireland, the bill is a shambles and a poor effort to gain some support from young voters in my opinion.
Firstly, the fact that these price increase limits were not implemented before is ridiculous. Can you really expect limited companies to not be greedy? Obviously if they do not have limitations they will exploit the students!
Secondly, the government proposes constructing 21,000 new student accommodation units by the year 2024. They are having a laugh. 3500 units a year?! I would be happily surprised if even half of those were built. And just for good measure, these units will be “high-end…generally costing €220-€270 per week.” €220-€270 per week?! To Dublin students, that might sound about right, but that is right about double what the average cost is in Galway. That is astronomical and completely unaffordable to many families who are struggling to find accommodation, struggling to claim the accommodation and struggling to pay for it.
Thirdly, this issue is not going away any time soon. There are an estimated 25,000 extra students going to third level by 2024. Where will we house them? When will we have solutions to our current problems? Who will support us when situations like Cúirt or Shanowen occur? It’s not the government. They have been barely present in this issue it seems.
It is time for us, the students to do what we can and when we can. Protest, march, shout and demand that accommodation remains affordable to all. Demand not to be left to fend for yourself when facing off against a tenant or company, with no help from the government. Demand to have your voices heard and quite fair requests, to keep accommodation affordable, met.
Education is a right and not a privilege and students should not have to consider the cost of living so heavily when deciding where they want to study.