UCD’s role in creating the student accommodation crisis

Image Credit: Sinead Mohan

Student accommodation in Ireland is becoming rapidly more unaffordable, and UCD accommodation is leading the way with its recent €14,000 addition to the campus. Sophie Finn examines UCD’s role in all this.

Student accommodation in Dublin has become an increasingly hazardous minefield in recent years. Accommodation rates on the campus have risen by 76% over the last decade. The exponential growth in rent prices, on and off campus, coupled with a shortage of available student accommodation means finding affordable student housing in Dublin is becoming a futile task. Campus accommodation was once a cheaper and easier alternative to the stretched rental market; however, it’s persistent unaffordability is locking many students out of studying in UCD, particularly those from low-income backgrounds or from outside Dublin.

Since 2007, the price of UCD residencies has increased by 118%, only partially including the 12% increase announced in 2020 to be implemented over the subsequent three years. This academic year, for continuing undergraduate students the least expensive accommodation in UCD, Belgrove, will cost €8,036.22, compared to €3,694 in 2007-08. This price covers the 9-month academic term, and the accommodation does not feature an oven. The newly built village studio can cost over €14,000 for single occupancy, or €7,889.75 as a twin room. The village studio is part of the new UCD village residencies, the first stage of UCD’s accommodation strategy, a two-phase plan to create over 2,000 additional beds on campus by 2024.

UCD’s campus accommodation is now the most expensive in Ireland. In comparison, Trinity’s popular accommodation Trinity Halls costs €6,833 for the academic year, their cheapest on campus option on Pearse street costs €6,135. University College Cork’s most expensive accommodation, UCC University Hall and Victoria Mills tallies at €6,364 for the academic year. Residents of UCD campus accommodation do not have the full rights of a tenant, similarly to many types of campus accommodation, students instead have a license to reside. In line with updated tenancy law UCD, as a student accommodation provider, is obliged to allow residents to pay their license fee in monthly instalments.

In response to a request for comment on UCD’s accommodation strategy and the rent increase, a spokesperson for UCD stated “There is a range of on-campus accommodation available for students. There is no requirement for students to take on an annual contract.”

The lack of affordable student accommodation will prevent many students studying at UCD and has led to easier exploitation of students. Purpose built student accommodation is appearing across Dublin, this accommodation is generally more luxurious and expensive than ordinary student accommodation, for example a single en-suite in Blackhall place costs €13,770 for 51 weeks. With the unaffordability of off-campus, on-campus, and purpose-built student accommodation this leaves digs as the only option. However, this typically cheaper option has also become unaffordable, with a recent property up for rent for €680.00 per week for a five-day week in Blackrock. Those living in digs also lack any tenancy rights.

The housing ethics of maximising profit above all else which has marred the country and caused the housing crisis is rapidly seeping into the realm of student accommodation. This attitude towards housing is preventing many students from studying in UCD and exploiting many who do. It begs the question, should there be greater responsibility for universities not to treat campus accommodation like a business?

UCDSU has protested to reverse the 12% increase in campus accommodation rent. They are also lobbying the government to stop the building of luxury student accommodation, and only allow the development of affordable student accommodation. Ruairí Power, UCDSU President, spoke to the University Observer on UCD’s accommodation strategy. “UCDSU have absolutely no confidence that the University's Accommodation Strategy will meaningfully address the serious difficulty that students have in accessing affordable accommodation in Dublin. There has been a complete failure to date to look after students from low-income backgrounds, as the University Management Team have decided to prioritise luxury style builds that only students from affluent backgrounds will be able to afford.” 

“There's a lot of important work being done by units across campus to increase participation from under-represented groups which are being seriously undermined by discriminatory accommodation policies. €14,000 for a 9 month lease is simply extortionate and an indictment of the lack of commitment from UCD leadership to breaking down barriers of access to higher education. The overwhelming majority of students want an affordable, safe and secure place to stay, not massive studio apartments. Wealthy students have been looked after enough, it's beyond time that other students were considered.”

When asked what UCDSU plan to do to combat campus rent increases and prevent future increases, Power outlined. “We will be running a Renters Rights Week in Early Trimester 1 and will be meeting Minister Harris to discuss ringfencing Government funding for cost-rental style affordable accommodation on campus. A major focus of the team this year is building engagement, which we hope we can channel into effect campaigning against the classist nature of the proposed plans and pushing for a significant policy shift for Phase 3 with Government Intervention.”

The University Observer also requested comment from Darragh O’Brien TD, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on campus accommodation prices at UCD. A representative for the Department told the University Observer “the provision of student accommodation is primarily a matter for the Minister for Further and Higher Education”. 

The spokesperson further stated “The National Student Accommodation Strategy which was launched by the previous Government in July 2017 and was developed with input from the key stakeholders in the sector. It includes 8 key targets and 27 actions to support the delivery of an increased supply of Purpose Built Student Accommodation. The Strategy is targeting the provision of an additional 21,000 bed spaces by 2024. This would bring the total available in the State to 54,441 by 2024. The Programme for Government also contains a commitment to work with Higher Education Institutes to ensure that more accommodation is built on and off campus using cost rental models and others.”

“In June Ministers O’Brien and Harris announced new student rental protections. Any upfront payment upon the commencement of a tenancy will now be restricted to a total value that does not exceed two months’ rent i.e. a deposit and one month rent in advance. This restriction will apply to all tenancies including for students residing in student specific accommodation. A student can make a larger upfront payment if they so wish, by way of an opt-out option, but they cannot be forced to do so. The Bill also provides that the notice period to be given by students in respect of student specific accommodation will be limited to a maximum 28 days’ notice.”

“Minister O’Brien has acknowledged the need to increase the availability of accommodation for students, which he believes is the most effective way to provide real choice and options. He is committed to continuing to work with Minister Harris and the USI on this matter.”

Simon Harris, Minister for Further and Higher Education has not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing. 

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy spoke to the University Observer on the issue. “Student accommodation costs are out of control. The government have failed to build publicly-owned student accommodation, and instead left the vast majority of students to be victims of greedy and rack renting landlords. The result has been a disaster for students, and bumper profits for corporate landlords. People Before Profit are pushing for the state to fund the universities to build purpose built student accommodation directly, at genuinely affordable rents and in public ownership. Immediately we are also pushing for a proper deposit protection scheme that has been promised since 2011, which would see deposits lodged with an independent tenants board, to prevent landlords refusing to return deposits. We are also fighting for full tenancy rights for all students, whether living in private student accommodation, digs or on-campus accommodation.  To achieve this, we need to build a housing movement in this country, linking students up with the other victims of the housing crisis."

The University Observer also requested comment on the issue from several politicians in the Dublin Rathdown constituency, such as Josepha Madigan TD and Catherine Martin TD, however said politicians have not responded at the time of writing.