The op-ed written by Provost Patrick Prendergast in today’s Irish Times was an outrageous – if transpicuous – sign of a College administration that’s admitting students are not among its prime concerns.
Documents obtained by The University Times last month showed that rent prices for on-campus accommodation in Trinity could be increased by four per cent. Although this proposal was later taken off the agenda, protests went ahead in Trinity against future increases that College has acknowledged remain likely.
And, if there’s no sign of them coming in right at this moment, then Prendergast’s op-ed today well and truly laid his cards on the table: by blasting government underfunding, he is shifting the blame for rent increases well in advance, and pre-empting the anger that future increases will be met with. This disingenuous attempt to justify an action that hasn’t even been implemented yet should worry students, as well as lay bare to them where College’s priorities lie.
But if they’re calculating, then Prendergast’s comments also show he’s way out of touch. While he acknowledged that accommodation is the “defining issue” for students, he failed to admit that College has any responsibility to subsidise campus accommodation for students.
This disingenuous attempt to justify an action that hasn’t even been implemented yet should worry students
And in a bitter irony, Prendergast acknowledged the privilege he had of living on campus in his final year – declining to reference the huge portion of students he’s potentially locking out of College accommodation. It’s undeniable that higher education is battling a years-long funding crisis, but in today’s op-ed Prendergast did more than highlight the government’s failings: he sought to pre-emptively justify Trinity’s decision to force students to pay the price for them.
The uproar that has met these latest rent proposals has been an impressive sign that students won’t take any more hikes in the costs of their accommodation, but the truth is that College’s dealings with on-campus residents have been dubious at best and exploitative at worst for a long while.
Up until recently, students were faced with extortionate nightly rates for the latter half of May as exams ran longer than the length of the on-campus renting period. Students in on-campus accommodation are still forced to pay extra if they want to move in before Wednesday of freshers’ week. College is already slapping extra charges on students left, right and centre – and still Prendergast has the audacity to say that “on-campus accommodation has to pay for itself”.
One of Prendergast’s central arguments – that students who don’t live on campus shouldn’t subsidise costs for those who do – entirely misses the point. Furthermore, pitting students against each other is a dangerous game. All funding is not created equal, and claiming that students should not fund services that do not directly benefit them is bereft of any understanding of how the system should work. No student is denouncing the money spent on the Disability Service, Student Counselling or the College Health Service, even though they themselves may not directly require or make use of those services.
All funding is not created equal, and claiming that students should not fund services that don’t benefit them is bereft of understanding of how the system should work
Students won’t begrudge some funding being used to make living in Dublin more accessible for the many students who are crippled with the cost. It is College’s job to put funds to their best possible use, and with a housing crisis in full swing, providing affordable and accessible accommodation for students should be a priority.
And Prendergast showed again that affordability isn’t his key concern when he cited a report that shows the increased availability of purpose-built student accommodation. As this newspaper last year revealed – and as anyone who’d done their homework would know – less than seven per cent of the beds he’s talking about are available for less than €840 per month.
Prendergast’s failure, then, to accept any responsibility on the College’s part or to recognise that student anger is justified is the final nail in the coffin of a College that has been failing to take the accommodation crisis and its impact on students seriously for some time.
But more than anything else, it highlights Trinity’s decision to ignore the obvious: high rents are an active barrier to higher education. High rent rates are effectively excluding students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds from attending university.
For a College that has attempted to make leaps on access in recent years, Trinity has shown a remarkable lack of self-awareness in failing to recognise the irony of promoting inclusion while locking students out due to high rents. College cannot with any justification claim to care for students while making comments that are this callous and cold-blooded.