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COMMENT: Rental crisis is a barrier to third level education

Monday, 29th July, 2019 7:59am

Story by Tony McCullagh
COMMENT: Rental crisis is a barrier to third level education

Finding suitable student accommodation is challenging. PHOTO: BIGSTOCK

COMMENT: Rental crisis is a barrier to third level education

Finding suitable student accommodation is challenging. PHOTO: BIGSTOCK

THERE was an interesting contribution to the rental crisis debate on Ciara Kelly’s ‘Lunchtime Live’ radio programme on Newstalk last week.

President of DCU Students’ Union, Christine Farrell, was on the show to elaborate on her earlier tweet criticising accommodation costs. She highlighted the fact that one provider was asking students for a weekly rent of €330 for a private studio flat. ‘Cluster rooms’ – whatever they are – were available from €230 per week.

The fact that these units were being specifically aimed at students was difficult to comprehend. Even a professional worker on a modest wage would find it difficult to find over €17,000 to pay the annual rent. At €1,400 per month, it would be the equivalent of a mortgage payment on a fairly substantial family home.

The reality is that most students are not from wealthy backgrounds and are still heavily reliant on financial support from their parents. Many have part-time jobs to help fund their day to day living expenses or enjoy the social life that comes with being a student. 

In the final year of a course, it can be difficult to balance working in a restaurant, bar or shop with achieving academic success in exams. For some of these young people, financial stress and pressure to study can negatively impact on their mental health.

While the rental crisis is a national one, it is most acutely felt in Dublin. There are stories of students enduring hellish commutes to attend college in Dublin as renting is simply not an option for them. Others are forced to live in substandard, crowded accommodation during the academic year.

In recent decades, so much progress has been made in removing traditional barriers to third level education. There are excellent access programmes to encourage people from socially deprived communities to attend college. Families on lower incomes can avail of grants to avoid having to pay the annual €3,000 registration fees.

Incredible opportunities await those who wish to attend college as a mature student. There are also incentives for people with disabilities to enjoy full access to third level education.

More’s the pity that Ireland’s shameful accommodation crisis could deter people from availing of the wealth of opportunities that education can bring. On so many levels, Ireland’s economic recovery is being eclipsed by a housing crisis that makes us feel so much poorer than we should. Record employment levels mean nothing if the average worker can’t afford to rent or qualify for a mortgage.

And if people with jobs feel the pinch, just imagine what it’s like to be a student.

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