A decade of Government inaction has led to thousands of students around the county being unable to find accommodation for the current academic year, the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has said.
As colleges have welcomed back students to campus in recent weeks, stories have emerged of students being forced to pay for hotels and B&Bs because no other accommodation is available, while many others are travelling long distances daily to attend classes.
Earlier this week, the USI and student representatives launched their 'No Key, No Degrees' campaign by staging a sleep-out outside the Dáil to highlight the issue, however, USI president Clare Austick said the political will does not seem to be there for the Government to address the issue.
“Ten years ago we should have been building more purpose-built student accommodation, and Government should have been supporting colleges to build college-owned accommodation, but it hasn't happened and it's got to a place now where [the system] just can't take any more,” Ms Austick said.
Students are calling for the accommodation shortage to be recognised as an emergency and for it to be treated as a matter of priority by the Government. However, when the number of students without accommodation was pointed out over three weeks ago, Ms Austick said the Government failed to adequately engage with them on the matter.
The issue is not just about accommodation, she added, but also about access to education, and 'luxury' student accommodation complexes, particularly in cities like Dublin, are doing little to alleviate the issue as many students cannot afford their high price tags.
“Students are being priced out of education,” Ms Austick said. “When we talk about access to education, you have to take accommodation into the conversation ... There's no good having places available if students can't actually afford to live in them.”
“Generally speaking, the Government has completely neglected the next generation,” she said, and young people have been “really failed” by political leaders over the past 10 years.
“Young people are always an afterthought, students are always an afterthought, and they're being neglected,” Ms Austick said.
If they keep fobbing us off by saying nothing can be done in the short-term, we're going to be in the same situation in five to ten years' time.
To finally set about addressing the student accommodation crisis, the USI are calling on the Government to develop a sustainable and effective plan, including support for colleges to build their own college-owned, affordable accommodation.
The union is also urging the Government to introduce legislation to ensure accommodation for students must remain as student accommodation, rather than being pulled into the wider renters' market or being used for short-term holiday lets.
Crucially, the USI are seeking a commitment from Government in the upcoming budget, asking for funds to be allocated for purpose-built student accommodation in order to address the supply shortfalls.
“If they keep fobbing us off by saying nothing can be done in the short-term, we're going to be in the same situation in five to ten years' time.
“If they had recognised this as an issue 10 years ago, we wouldn't have thousands of students without accommodation now,” Ms Austick said.