Is Ireland’s affordable student accommodation strategy failing?

Is Ireland's affordable student accommodation strategy failing?
Could unaffordable accommodation drive international students out of Ireland? Source: Shutterstock

Private companies are failing to build affordable student accommodation in Ireland, despite its National Student Accommodation Strategy seemingly going well.

In a report released last week, the Government of Ireland announced 2,900 new student beds have been completed with a further 7,257 in development.

This means the government’s target to create 7,000 beds by 2019, as outlined in the 2017 National Student Accommodation Strategy, is well on-track – or so it seems.

What the government fails to mention in the report is that the majority of this accommodation carries a luxury price tag for spacious rooms, en-suites, state-of-the-art gyms and chill out rooms that look like they’re straight out of Google HQ, according to the University Times.

A room like this could cost you between EUR1,000 (US$1,200) and EUR1,400 (US$1,600) a month in Ireland. Source: Shutterstock

Designed for international students, President of Union of Students in Ireland, Síona Cahill said accommodation providers are treating overseas students like ‘cash cows’ rather than focussing on affordability.

“The presumption is that international students from the US or Asia are prepared to pay a higher price, but we’re not convinced that the standard of accommodation being targeted at them is what they want or need at all,” Cahill told the Irish Times.

International students already compete with higher fees than domestic students. A year’s tuition costs between EUR6,000 (US$7,000) and EUR8,300 (US$9,700) for undergraduate students in the EU; and EUR9,000 (US$10,500) and EUR45,000 (US$52,800) for non-EU students.

The newly-built rooms add to these costs, with rental costs priced between EUR1,000 (US$1,200) and EUR1400 (US$1,600) per month, according to the Irish Times.

Unable to access the student finance loans system due to their international status, overseas students are forced to rely on private loans, or family savings to fund their education.

Despite conceptions that all international students are as privileged as the fu’er dai – those born in the late 80s or early 90s to wealthy Chinese business people – studying abroad often relies on an entire family’s life savings to support their child’s future.

This has raised concerns about the new cohort of students currently looking for accommodation before starting their studies in September.

With a lack of affordable housing, no access to student loan schemes and potentially limited finances, some may be forced to drop out of their studies – and this could even cause the number of students choosing Ireland as their study abroad destination to shrink in coming years.

“Higher education has made a crucial contribution to Ireland’s development. It will play an even greater role as we seek to further develop our skills infrastructure, deepen our innovative capacities and create a more equal society,” wrote the Irish Times.

“Accessing college, however, must be affordable. The alternative is thwarted academic ambitions and a huge personal and societal cost.”

With Brexit looming, Ireland should be focussing on attracting potentially displaced students rather than pushing them away to grow its influence as a higher education destination.

According to a report by QS Enrolment Solutions, almost 40 percent of students in the EU and 10 percent of those from outside the EU said they were less likely to choose the UK as a study destination due to Brexit.

If Ireland can find a way to reach and retain these students, they could see themselves steal a significant portion of the international student community – but the stakes of attracting international students without sufficient accommodation options are high.

Australia is currently dealing with an affordable housing crisis where many cannot afford the sky-high rent prices in private abodes, forcing 74 percent more students choosing to settle for unsafe and often illegal options now than in 2014.

Caused by an unprecedented influx of students to Australia with a clouded awareness of the high rental prices, low-income students have no other choice but to accept overcrowded, inexpensive rooms.

Since Ireland is currently establishing itself as a study abroad hotspot – and has a unique opportunity to capitalise on students dissuaded from studying in the UK – it must do all it can to avoid a repeat of the Australian student housing crisis.

The National Student Accommodation Strategy is a step in the right direction towards growing Ireland’s international student population at an opportunist time for the country – but without a gold pot at the end of every overseas student’s financial rainbow, the strategy may fail to reach its full potential.

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