NUMBERS have swelled at the Quad in UCC with dozens more students joining the protest against rent hikes for on-campus accommodation.
The protest, which began on Tuesday, started with four full-time members of Students’ Union and around 20 students in total on a rotational basis.
Today, numbers grew to over 50 students and the plight has also been supported by more than 300 university staff members who have signed a letter addressed to the UCC President, Patrick O'Shea, protesting the 3% rent increase due to be introduced for the forthcoming academic year.
If this goes ahead, it would amount to a cumulative 19% within the last three years.
"It is our belief that repeatedly raising the cost of student accommodation during a housing crisis of this magnitude is a regressive and unnecessary move that only further entrenches existing inequalities faced by existing and prospective third level students," the letter states.
The university staff who have signed the letter are in full solidarity with the students' calls to reverse the 3% rent decision and to see a rent freeze on UCC-controlled accommodation for the next three years.
Meanwhile, an online petition established by the Students' Union currently has over 2,000 signatures.
The protest has also garnered support from, Sinn Féin TD, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.
Issuing a statement from the Quad, he said: "From my point of view, and from the point of view of Sinn Féin, everyone deserves the opportunity to get an education at third level.
"Increasing that’s becoming more and more out of reach for a variety of reasons, inadequate grants, third level fees, but one of the biggest factors is that student accommodation is becoming unaffordable," he said.
"I’m calling on UCC, and the company that runs the student accommodation, to reverse this decision," Mr Ó Laoghaire continued.
He also stated that he is eager to see a rent freeze implemented and that he is hoping to meet with the UCC President to discuss the matter.
Also supporting the protest is third-year Zoology student, Zoe Doyle who is camping out with her dog, Robert the greyhound, until such time as the university decides to reverse its decision.
"It was Rob's first time in a tent and he wasn't too keen initially," Zoe said.
"We had to coax him in with some treats but as soon as he was in, he loved it.
"I brought along his favourite plush toy and plenty of blankets so he was happy out," she said.
Although Zoe isn't living in on-campus accommodation, she feels it's vital that the protest gets as much support as it can.
"The rent increases over the past three years have been needless inflation and if it continues it will only see the rates in private accommodation surge as well.
"It's putting students under a serious financial burden," she said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the university said: "UCC respects the students’ right to protest the decision of the Board of Campus Accommodation.
"UCC is in regular contact with our students and is working with them during this period to ensure their welfare is protected during their protest.
"UCC student union representatives are members of the UCC Campus Accommodation.
"Together, we have sought to resolve the issue of the urgent need for high-quality safe student accommodation at a fair price.
"The Board did not take its decision lightly to increase rates by a maximum of €20 per month during the academic term and understands that this represents a hardship for many students.
"Following discussion with the student representatives last week, the Board has already committed to waive the increase in rates for students who are in receipt of student hardship funds.
"UCC receives zero State funding to support the provision of student accommodation.
"All rent revenue is reinvested to ensure our students have safe accommodation at a high standard. For two years up to 2018 UCC did not raise the price of student accommodation.
"However, in recent years costs to operate, maintain, develop and refurbish, safe student accommodation have risen and the Board needed to address this UCC Campus Accommodation is always striving to keep operational costs as low as possible.
"UCC Campus Accommodation rents are significantly below those of private operators and we intend to keep it that way."