Tuesday, 23 November 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Harris.He was keen to attend but, unfortunately, but due to Cabinet meeting commitments, he will be unable to do so.
The Government has taken action to address affordability in student accommodation. Rent increases in student accommodation are capped under the rent pressure zone provisions. From this year onwards, students cannot be made to pay more than two months rent upfront when commencing a tenancy, ending the practice where students had to pay several thousand euros upfront to secure accommodation.
A number of supports are available to students facing financial barriers to attend higher education. The principal one of these is the student grant scheme, which assists more than 70,000 students annually to access third-level education. The student grant scheme includes a non-adjacent rate of grant, which is a higher rate of grant that takes into consideration the additional costs which may be associated with living further away from college, such as accommodation costs.
From September 2022, the distance for the non-adjacent rate will be reduced from 45 km to 30 km, meaning that more students will qualify for this higher grant rate. Students experiencing exceptional financial needs can apply for support under the student assistance fund. The allocation to the student assistance fund for the 2021-22 academic year is €17.2 million, which includes an additional €8.1 million on the Covid-19 return to education funding.
Fundamentally however, this challenge is one of supply. As a country we need to dramatically increase the supply of all types of housing and accommodation, including student accommodation. That is why the Government has launched Housing for All led by my Department. This sets out a series of actions to be delivered to fix the housing crisis. The plan is backed up by the largest ever housing budget in the history of the State, at in excess of €20 billion, to transform our housing system.
The programme for Government, Our Shared Future, contains a commitment to work with higher education institutions to ensure that more accommodation is built on- and off-campus using cost-rental and other models. An important element of this is to ensure that the higher education institutions have access to low-cost financing.
Since 2017, the Housing Finance Agency has approved a total of €157 million in loans to support the provision of more than 1,400 new students bed spaces across three universities. At present the technological universities, TUs, are unable to borrow to build their own student accommodation. Housing for All contains a commitment to support our TUs to develop purpose-built student accommodation through access to appropriate financing such that TUs borrowing from the Housing Finance Agency.
The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the Minister, Deputy Harris, have been engaging with representatives from the higher education sector on this issue to better understand how they can be supported to build more student accommodation. Together with these stakeholders and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, we are looking to develop a stronger pipeline of affordable student accommodation which we know is critical. As part of that work we will examine the potential for the use of funding models such as cost rental in the education sector as well as examining existing barriers to the building of student accommodation.