Local media reports have said that students are “struggling to source” places to live, with some even having to couch surf because of the shortage of housing.
One international student told the Irish Examiner they flew to Limerick on September 5 to take up a course at the university, but could only find accommodation at a hotel in the city centre, costing “€370 per week” – a similar price a student can usually expect to pay for a month in student accommodation.
Similar reports from the Connacht Tribune described “thousands on waiting lists” in Galway for accommodation and “countless more” facing deferral because of the student housing crisis.
Laura Harmon, the director of the Irish Council for International Students said that, while situation around accommodation had been improving at the beginning of the year, any improvement was only temporary.
“We are now starting to see a return to the now almost normalised accommodation crisis,” Harmon said. “This is why quality needs to be enforced for all accommodation in the state, starting with urgent legislative reform.”
The University of Limerick confirmed in a statement that the Covid-19 pandemic was a factor.
“UL is aware that there are some students who have been unable to secure accommodation in the locality, with demand at its highest in recent memory,” a spokeperson said.
“This has been exacerbated by a national housing shortage, a pattern of private landlords leaving the student rental market and a drop in ‘digs / homestay’ type accommodation as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
To combat the demand, UL said it had been mounting a local print and radio campaign, as well as securing discount rates for students with local hotels.
UL staff members have even had to use their “network of neighbours, friends and family to encourage those with spare rooms to consider letting to students”, which they have said has been effective.
There are concerns that students having to stay in hostels and hotels may tarnish the welcome international students experience when they arrive in Ireland.
A “Greet and Transfer” Facility was set up as part of an overarching ‘Back To Campus’ initiative, which stated that “all of Ireland’s higher education institutions have come together to provide Covid-19 guidelines for incoming [international] students”.
“Staying in a hotel is all well and good if you’re away for a weekend. It is not a long term solution”
“It doesn’t look great,” said David Russell, the chairman of Ireland’s Progressive College Network.
“It’s a situation that’s affecting not just international students but Irish students. It’s a major issue because there is less accommodation available than there was before the pandemic… everything has been made worse by the pandemic and the large number of students who are set to travel.”
The Union of Students in Ireland is calling for government action by staging a sleep-out protest in front of the government’s Dáil Éireann building on Thursday. Russell added that the government’s silence thus far is not helping the situation.
“The government should be getting involved… they were the ones who were kind of saying we’re open for business, that [international students] could travel, but now through no fault of their own they find themselves in this scenario where they’ve no place to go,” Russell said.
“I mean, staying in a hotel is all well and good if you’re away for a weekend,” Russell said. “That is not a long term solution.”
Harmon added, “There is a need for more purpose-built accommodation, for students regulation of rents, and action to address overcrowding… any increase in course places requires an increase in the amount of accommodation available.”