home Opinion The Hardship of Third-Level Students 

The Hardship of Third-Level Students 

by Phillip Brennan

Third-level students across Ireland are experiencing a violation of human rights. Students are being locked out of education due to spiralling fees and rent costs. 

Furthermore, students are starving and living in poverty as they have barely enough to get by. Ireland is driving its young people away from the endless possibility and the opportunities the state has to offer. 

 

On Monday, October 4th, the cabinet met at UCC to sign off on the National Development Plan (NDP), described as a “to-do list or wish list”. 

The cabinet came when the UCC’s Student Union (SU) announced the reopening of the ‘Students Union Food Bank’.  The food bank was reinstalled to help students who are struggling to buy food and other essential items. 

UCC students seeking food parcels had to be turned away when SU ran out of food after just 50 minutes. Students across Ireland are starving and living in poverty. This is the reality of having the highest college fees in the EU and increasing rents.

On October 4th, the cabinet didn’t meet with students or the SU executive during their time at UCC. Students were side-lined by the NDP plan. The lack of effort demonstrated by our government goes to show how much they care about students.

The Government has no interest in addressing the problems that we are facing. The NDP is a prime example of how the Government looks for opportunities to make them look good. The Government believes that the NDP is an example of progress, when in fact, it places societal issues under the table.

I believe that the Government has no ambition, no courage, no big ideas, or leadership to tackle the issues we are facing today.

The food bank is the second time this semester that the SU had to intervene to provide students with their fundamental human rights. 

 

On September 23rd, third-level students from across the country gathered outside Dáil Éireann to underscore the accommodation crisis, which has overcome boiling point. 

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) organised the ‘No Keys, No Degrees’ demonstration. The USI has said that several students are being locked out of education and academic success due to a lack of suitable accommodation due to the crisis.

The protest saw many students preparing their tents and wrapping up in their sleeping bags as they settled outside Dáil Éireann for the night.

 

USI President, Clare Austick, stressed that students are forced to stay in hotels, B&Bs, and hostels. Many students are participating in ‘couch surfing’ for most of their academic year. 

Furthermore, many students must commute long distances for college. Many students work long hours at the weekend to earn extra money to meet the demands of high rents and other expenses.

USI President Austick speaks for many when she specified that “We’re angry, we’re outraged, we’re frustrated. We’re annoyed that the Government just has not taken our calls on board and haven’t taken the student accommodation crisis seriously enough”.

Students have had an excruciating 18 months, and the road does not seem to be getting any smoother.

Last year I had the privilege of being the class representative for my course BSc Government and Political Science II. However, I witnessed and understood the effect of the pandemic on the students in my class. Covid-19 deprived students of the complete third-level experience. Students had been locked out of the learning environment and arguably locked out of their own critical and independent thought.  The classroom and the students that are subject to them had been gradually eroded. 

The classroom empowers students to engage with diverse opinions and philosophies. Consequently, enhancing their knowledge and attitudes that prepare them for the world. This environment was usurped from students for public health measures. This environment is being usurped from students yet again by high fees and accommodation issues.  

Many students struggled to find accommodation before the academic year commenced. I was one of those students. I began my search in May 2021 and my search ended at the end of August.  I was actively searching for somewhere for the months of May and June.  During July, I was spending hours online every day looking for a place to live. I believed that if I didn’t find accommodation for the academic year, my degree would be put at risk.

 

However, we are now halfway through semester one and high rental prices and a severe shortage of available accommodation is putting students’ academic success at risk. 

This predicament leaves students at a crossroads. However, these crossroads have been deprived of signposts. Many students ask if they must defer their course for a year and save money for an affordable house. They ask if they should leave college and find a job because they are unable to pay their fees and rent. Students must answer many difficult questions.

The road we choose could lead to a devastating location. Thousands of students have found themselves sequestered in an ever-changing environment. This startling and doubtful emotion is subject to many thoughts. 

Budget 2022 did not provide any comfort for students. The budget didn’t provide any new capital funding for third-level institutions to efficiently build much-needed student accommodation. It is quite possible that we will see a severe student accommodation crisis next September. 

 

For the first time in ten years, the SUSI grant increased by €200 a year. That is roughly €22 per month which is going to help students. I have discussed the SUSI grant increase with other students and the consensus is that the monthly increase is inadequate. 

€22 a month will not be able to cover the cost of shopping or electricity for a week. €22 a month barely covers the cost of a bus or train ticket home at the weekend. The monthly grant does not cover the full cost of rent, the grant barely touches the surface. The SUSI grant does not reflect the cost of being a student at all. Students in Ireland must pay the highest college fees in the EU and increase rents. Students need a liveable grant. The SAAS in Scotland is paying around £700 a month for students. It is no surprise that students go abroad to study for their degrees.

 

The housing crisis has been an issue in Ireland for several years. The crisis does not seem to be coming to an end any time soon.

Governments have blamed the crisis on years of austerity. In 2015, only 75 social houses were built in comparison to 8’500 houses in 1970 and 6’900 houses in 1985. 

The dramatic decrease in construction was a result of the Government handing the development to the private sector. The Government argues that the private sector is vital in building a ‘modern economy’. The National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) purchased land from the government but were unable to repay.

 

The lands that are available to us can have 500’000 houses built on them. Frustratingly, these houses are not being built because of spiralling rent increases. Public land is being developed for private housing, not for social or affordable housing. The Government needs to build 30’000 affordable houses each year. 

Ireland is not one of the best states to invest in regarding property. The Department of Finance stated that international companies such as Apple, and Pfizer are setting high inflation rates. Decision making is investor centred not tenant centred. Ireland is obeying the powers of multinational companies and turning a blind eye to the electorate. Consequently, driving them away from the state. 

 

The blame game must end, and our elected representatives must brush politics aside. All parties on both sides of the political spectrum must reach a bipartisan agreement on addressing the housing crisis. 

Ireland’s housing crisis is affecting all members of society, not just third-level students.

Students are sitting their Junior Cert and Leaving Cert exams living in emergency accommodation. Third-level students are attempting to navigate through their courses living in emergency accommodation. Why are we allowing this to happen?  Why are we allowing young people to ponder the question of which country they should emigrate to? The Government is forcing future generations to leave the country. 

How can we look at children growing up and living in emergency accommodation such as hotels? Children living in emergency accommodation fear Santa Clause will not visit at Christmas because they constantly move from accommodation to accommodation. 

Children should not have to worry about these things that we take for granted. The Government is usurping children from their childhoods, imaginations, and dreams by allowing the crisis to continue. Thus, creating further problems down the line. 

 

Young people will have to pay the price of austerity. Young people will have to pay the price of climate change. Young people will have to pay the price of Covid-19. Young people will have to pay the price of the housing crisis.

 Parents have died in emergency accommodation because they could not find a home. Families have been torn apart because of emergency accommodation. This is not normal. This is brash and a violation of our fundamental human rights. 

The Government cannot simply sweep Ireland’s housing crisis under the carpet. We cannot ignore the housing crisis. Ireland’s ongoing housing crisis is a dystopia. Ireland’s housing crisis is dishonest and should not be taking place in a contemporary world.