The accommodation crisis in Dublin has long left policy-makers in government scratching their heads for a solution, with long-term strategies providing little comfort to students entering college in September. With the future of Trinity’s Oisin House accommodation project uncertain, and University College Dublin’s (UCD) €300 million accommodation expansion still several years away, the private sector has stepped in to provide much-needed beds for students.
The accommodation has proved wildly popular – despite prices of €824 per month, the Student Housing Company’s 471-bed Binary Hub has sold out for September. Unsurprisingly, the company has plans for more accommodation for next year, and only a curmudgeon would deny that more student housing, in whatever form, should be welcomed.
Yet an enterprising private sector isn’t going to solve the accommodation crisis singlehandedly – Trinity’s stalled accommodation project still remains a massive loss, and not simply because it means Dublin has 280 less beds for students. UCD’s campus plan for on-campus accommodation for 3,000 students too, offers students things not found in private accommodation.
Lower prices are of course one of those things. The prices for Trinity Hall are considerable lower than those in the Binary Hub, for instance, making such accommodation more affordable to the average student.
Yet just as important are the less tangible elements of university accommodation. How many pantomimes will be put be performed in private sector accommodation? Will staff call round to check on new students settling in? These examples, while flippant, capture the value of university accommodation. The aim isn’t just to provide a room, but to create a community linked to the values and ethos of the university.
In an accommodation crisis, how important is such a community? Trinity’s Dean of Students, Prof Kevin O’Kelly, certainly thinks we’d lose something without it: “I think we’d be losing an opportunity to help students in their transition to college, which is both an academic transition but it’s a personal transition, it’s developmental”, he told The University Times earlier this month.
The private sector’s talent does not lie in providing support to students entering college, and their presence alone cannot be seen as a solution to the crisis. Students deserve more than simply a room, and it up to the government to ensure university accommodation exists as a viable option for students.