As the accommodation crisis morphs from a calamity into a permanent feature of Irish cities, the inadequacy of Irish universities’ attempts to solve the problem are becoming more and more apparent.
The crisis, which is showing little sign of relenting, has become an annual talking point in the media. High rents, exploitative landlords and the latest innovation all take up column inches as politicians and universities offer the latest pithy advice to students fretting about finding a home for college.
The script, while routine and familiar, ignores the lack of real and sustained engagement from our colleges. While institutes of technology admittedly have limited ability to engage in large capital projects, Irish universities have the financial clout to properly prioritise student accommodation. Instead, colleges like Trinity have put their energies into a new business school and a campus in Grand Canal Docks, highlighting a disjuncture between the College’s rhetoric and its efforts.
While Oisín House will slowly materialise over the next few years and the Grand Canal Docks technology campus will house some student beds, we’re still far and away from a scenario where all first-year students, domestic and international, can be guaranteed safe, pastoral and purpose-built accommodation.
Universities have, for years, been the only real lobbyist in a crowded field looking for this type of accommodation. A long-awaited government strategy on the issue might have disappointed, but the lack of a long-term strategy from universities themselves suggests something has gone wrong in their lists of priorities. Large-scale projects, of course, take time – but time is a luxury our colleges have had. This crisis hasn’t crept up on anyone. Very soon, we’ll be facing a generation of students for whom safe, communal student accommodation is a rare privilege, rather than a norm.
Instead of a series of ambitious projects populating Dublin city, the best we have in Trinity is an expensive relationship with private developers. A lack of development space might be an issue, but this is a crisis that students have lived with for the better part of a decade – plenty of time for re-thinking and radical ideas that might have delivered something better than a single-pipeline accommodation project.