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Runner-Up: Cara Crudden, Calasanctius College, Co. Galway

 

The Future of Student Housing

The number of students in Ireland entering higher education has hit a record high. According to the 2016 O.E.C.D. report, a total of 52% of Irish citizens ranging from 25 to 34 years of age have had a third-level education. This growing number of enrolments into university has put huge pressure on the availability of student housing. As a result, rents have soared, with the average cost of sending a student to college estimated to be between €7,000 and €12,000 a year. The reality of this is that some undergraduates will be priced out of pursuing their chosen career path. Students are pitted against workers in the struggle to find accommodation, where the demand exceeds the supply. A report from the Higher Education Authority published in September 2015 found that there was a serious deficit in accommodation for students in Ireland.

So, what can we do about it? One solution is that students could simply choose a college course close to home, while others could do a daily commute. Students can also choose on-campus accommodation. One creative solution which has proven successful in countries such as Amsterdam, Berlin, and Stockholm is the conversion of shipping containers into student housing. They each contain a living space, bathroom, and balcony plus insulated panels and radiators, which ensure the structure is warm during the winter months. It’s a relatively cheap source of accommodation costing approximately €450 a month, and it has longevity built into the steel making it sustainable. These containers could be placed in areas of the campus that are not used, giving students an affordable and quirky living choice.

Another resolution to this predicament is the construction of floating accommodation on barges. Barges are a popular choice of accommodation throughout Europe and work well as an alternative type of housing. A company called Urban Riggers created an eco-friendly student accommodation complex of containers on a concrete pontoon which floated on Copenhagen’s harbour. This complex is powered by solar panels and a hydro source of heating. They feature en-suite bedrooms, restaurants, recreation rooms and even Wi-Fi services. If the barges were configured to ensure that there was a minimum risk of accidents, they could be located in places such as Galway Harbour which is just a 15-minute walk from N.U.I. Galway.

One of the most popular sources of accommodation for students in Ireland is ‘digs’. The obvious advantage of renting a room instead of an apartment is the reduced cost. There is no need for a room-mate. Hence you don’t need to struggle to cover someone’s share of the month's rent if they drop out of college or fall behind. It gives you the opportunity to live in an ideal location you otherwise couldn’t afford. Living with adult supervision provides peace of mind for the student’s parents knowing they are being looked after, and it allows the student to build friendships with the other tenants in this new setting. Under current legislation one can earn up to €14,000 tax free by letting out a spare room. This is an ideal situation for the likes of older couples with an empty nest due to their children growing up and moving away. It would provide them with a purpose in life, a stable income and company. There are currently over 120,000 houses with empty rooms in Ireland. Digs are a practical option. They offer affordable, high quality accommodation, and they are generally close to college, so it also eliminates commuting costs.

According to the 2016 Census, the number of vacant dwellings in Ireland is 183, 312. This is an unfortunate misuse of space which could otherwise be used to play a pivotal part in the provision of housing for students in university. For example, buildings such as the Corrib Great Southern Hotel in Galway and the old Connacht Laundry are registered derelict sites. They could be considered for upgrades or alternative use. Pressure must be put on landlords to ensure that these buildings are not abandoned and left derelict while there is a housing crisis in this country. The government should award the local authorities the finance to purchase these properties and create homes rather than selling them off as private units which create profit-making entities. These buildings could be demolished and carefully reconstructed into cost-effective student living, with communal kitchens and community spaces on each floor, combined with private bedrooms for student living. This would offer ample space for students

Shelter is a basic human right. Student shelter is a basic necessity, one that is not being met. This is a worry that hangs over the heads of students nationwide, a worry that keeps parents awake at night. We often hear stories of students sleeping on friend’s couches, staying in hostels and sleeping in cars. Enough is enough; it is time for the government to become more pro-active in delivering publicly funded student accommodation if the market is unable to do so. Higher education plays a critical role in our society, economy and culture. A student's potential should not be confined to the courses available close to home.