Some Clare students are facing annual rent bills of €7,500 for a shared bedroom in student accommodation in Dublin, and those are the ones who can find a place to live.
Describing the situation as an “accommodation crisis”, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has called for “urgent action” to address the housing shortage.
NUI Galway confirmed to The Clare Champion that it has sent out 11,000 leaflets to homeowners in the city in an effort to expand its student accommodation portfolio. A general shortage of houses in Galway City, as well as lengthy social housing waiting lists, have compounded the issue.
Clara Malone (20) from Bodyke is a third year student at NUI Galway. Despite spending weeks searching, she said “it is almost impossible” to find a house or an apartment.
Clara said there seems to be an under-supply of available houses for students in Galway and despite dedicating significant time and effort she has made little progress in recent weeks, while many of her friends are also struggling.
“I have viewed 10 properties so far with a friend and we’re actually up looking today [Wednesday] and we’ve been up other days viewing and it’s just absolutely impossible to find anything,” she said.
“You either have to be around at a certain time to meet people or else you are at a big disadvantage. They do it on a first-come, first-served basis, so they could be taking on 20 viewings a day and it could be the first person who takes it and then it’s ruined for the other 19 groups. Unless you’re first in the door, it’s very hard to actually get a house.”
Clara, who has a summer job in Tuamgraney, said there are lots of pages on Facebook that document the difficulty many Clare students are experiencing in Galway.
“Even throughout the college, there are people posting on pages still looking for accommodation because there’s just nothing around.
“There isn’t really any [specific] location in Galway, as there is in Limerick, for college students. There’s no big student accommodation area. Even if you wanted to go to Gort na Coiribe or Cúirt na Coiribe [purpose-built student accommodation] when you’re trying to apply for them, the website crashes because so many people are trying to get in. It’s just crazy.”
Clara said another problem is that a lot of tenants are looking for postgraduate students and mature students, so that is another obstacle to undergraduate students.
“In an ideal world, they’re not really looking for second years, first years, anyone like that. Since we’re going into third year it should be a little bit easier but it’s still difficult enough,” she noted.
Despite the obvious preference landlords have for mature students, Clara said the influx of first year students next week will make the situation even more difficult.
“A lot of college students have been up the last couple of weeks looking for houses because they know the Leaving Cert results are coming out and when they do, they know the landlords will be flooded with calls.”
Clara said her search for accommodation this summer has been the most difficult she has experienced during her third-level education.
“It is more difficult because we’re constantly on the phone and on the internet looking for places and I’d say we’ve looked at near 50 advertised houses. We’ve spoken to lots of people but the thing is they’ll tell you they will let you view it and then when you go to see it, it’s gone.”
According to Clara, if you want to get a house you have to have a deposit in your hand. “You have to be willing to pay there and then. You don’t really have a chance to think about it, that’s how short and how quick they go.”
USI president Kevin Donoghue said there are accommodation shortages in Galway and Limerick, as well as larger cities like Dublin and Cork. He said digs will alleviate the problem in the short-term but longer-term additional measures are urgently required. He said increasing financial supports for students who live 24km to 45km away would be a positive start.
“There needs to be other supports to help those who are struggling and can’t even afford digs. An increase in the Student Assistance Fund would help many students who will struggle to pay for basic utilities in the coming months, due to increased rent and travel costs.
“Also, the adjacency rates need to be fixed. Currently, students whose family home is less than 45km from their chosen college receive a lower grant but we know from the national travel survey in 2013 that the average work commute is 18km.”
Teresa Kelly, an accommodation administrative officer at NUIG, said the shortage of accommodation in Galway is similar to the problems being experienced by many students in Cork and Dublin and she said the university is trying to address it.
In 2017, after the construction of further housing units, NUI Galway will have the capacity to facilitate an additional 400 to 500 students in purpose-built on-campus accommodation. There are currently 2,500 students living on-campus at NUI Galway and Ms Kelly said half of those students are first years, as they have priority.
“There is more bed space coming on-stream. The university and the building office are trying to solve the accommodation issues as best we can but we realise we are short and there is no new buildings yet,” she said.
Ms Kelly added that the university is asking people who live within 15 miles of the campus to consider living with their parents and commuting to the college. “I don’t think they would miss out on too much and some people would say there are less distractions and it is easier to study when living at home.”
One North Clare parent confirmed on Wednesday that accommodation for her daughter, who is in Dublin, is costing more than €725 per month for a shared room in a student apartment. The fee for the first semester had to be paid upfront along with a “deposit” of €1,000 to cover heat, electricity and utilities.
A West Clare mother said her daughter, who collected her Leaving Cert results on Wednesday, applied for accommodation in two separate places already this year but was unsuccessful.
“We are delighted she has done so well and that she will more than likely get the course of her choice, so we will be going looking for somewhere for her to stay today or maybe tomorrow,” she added.
Councillor Pat Hayes estimates the cost of having one child at college is between €10,000 and €15,000 when accommodation, registration fees, utilities, food and books are taken into account. He believes courses should be shorter to ease the financial burden on families.
“There are courses that could be done in three years that are gone to four and that means you are talking about €60,000: if you have three kids that is €180,000. What I find most strange is the amount of time students have off during their semesters. They are pencilled in for hours here or there but there seems to be plenty of time where they could have classes but don’t.
“The more I see of it, the more I think some courses have been extended to suit the colleges and not the students or their parents who are paying for this. My general opinion is that colleges are doing it for financial gain and the people worst hit are those from middle-income families,” he added.
Some schools in the county offer scholarships for a small number of students to attend third level education. In St Joseph’s Secondary School in Spanish Point, a bursary was available for the first time this year in memory of the late metalwork and engineering teacher, Jim Flanagan. Mr Flanagan’s widow, Breda, offered the bursary to mark the 10th anniversary of his death.
Students at CBS Ennistymon have also received Tomar Trust scholarships to third level education in recent years.
By Trevor Quinn and Nicola Corless