Seanad debates

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Student Accommodation

12:00 pm

Photo of Mary FitzpatrickMary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, for coming to the House. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State when I say I would have preferred the Minister, Deputy Harris, to be here. I appreciate the Minister of State's time. I understand that the Minister is at a Cabinet meeting.

The issue I wish to raise is access to third level education and, most importantly, the affordability of third level education. The introduction of free education in Ireland in 1967 was a historic moment. It is one that we as a country experience the benefit of every day, not just socially but economically, and something we are recognised as a nation around the world for having achieved and led on. Today, outside Leinster House, students will protest about the financial barriers preventing students in Ireland from accessing third level education. Education is not just good for the individual, society and our economy but is also an investment in our collective future. Financial barriers are preventing an increasing number of students from accessing education. I appreciate that the Government in place over the past year has recognised those barriers and taken action to address some of them. The recent improvements to the SUSI grant in the budget, specifically the increase in the income thresholds and the qualifying distance and the enhanced funding of €17 million which the Minister, Deputy Harris, secured for the enhanced student assistance fund, were really welcome. I have also engaged with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, as has the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, on the caps on rents, the caps on upfront payments for student accommodation, the reduction in the notice period for students to give on accommodation and the direction given to local authorities not to allow purpose-built student accommodation to be converted to short-term lets. That is all very welcome.

The reality, though, is that the research that has been conducted indicates that the cost of a four-year degree is €50,000 on average, which is still too expensive. In Housing for All, the €20 billion commitment that has been made to address the housing crisis is welcome but, on top of that, Covid has had an impact. The number of digs has reduced. Families are no longer willing to take additional residents into their homes, quite understandably. The pressure on students is therefore enormous. I know that the third level institutions have been given €170 million or €180 million in funding to build purpose-built student accommodation and that the technical universities have been given funding. However, we need an urgency on the provision of affordable student accommodation because the accommodation element is proving to be a very significant cost. The Union of Students in Ireland is asking the Government to take action to remove these financial barriers. It requests specifically that the €3,000 student contribution charge be abolished. It also asks for further reform of the SUSI grant scheme. More than anything, it is asking the Government to take urgent action to ensure that student accommodation is affordable to all students.

I hope the Minister, Deputy Harris, has sent the Minister of State here with some good news. I look forward to his reply.


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