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Ireland moves to expand student housing stock

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Demand for housing in Ireland, and student housing in particular, considerably outstrips supply
  • As of this academic year, there is an estimated shortage of 23,000 purpose-built student accommodation beds
  • However, a newly announced national strategy aims to add 21,000 beds by 2024

Most university students in Ireland (41%) would prefer to live in purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA), while another 27% would choose private rental housing. It happens, however, that only about a third of higher education students in Ireland have a PBSA bed while 31% live in private rentals.

These are some of the key findings from a new report from the Union of Students in Ireland (USI). The USI report underscores a long-standing challenge with respect to housing in Ireland, and student housing in particular. Simply put: there is not enough affordable housing to keep pace with demand, and that limited availability is driving up costs. For the new academic year starting in September, the PBSA shortfall alone has been estimated at 23,000 beds.

“In recent years, the shortage in student accommodation has forced students, families and professionals to race for accommodation, and compete for somewhere to live,” said USI President Michael Kerrigan. “In many instances, this competition has pushed students to take accommodation that exists outside of their price range.”

Another recent study, this time from the property search website, points out that average rents in Ireland are now 13% above the previous peak from 2008. The situation is even more acute in Dublin – home to a majority of the country’s university students – where rents are now averaging about 18% above their previous peak, and where average housing prices are up more than 12% over last year alone.

The national strategy

On 20 July, the Irish government signalled its commitment to easing housing pressures with the launch of a new National Student Accommodation Strategy.

The strategy sets out 27 action items in a bid to expand housing stock for domestic and international students alike. Its key metric is PBSA beds and it projects that up to nearly 11,000 new spaces will be created by 2019, considerably beyond the previously established target of 7,000 PBSA spots by that same year.

All told, the National Student Accommodation Strategy aims to see an additional 21,000 PBSA beds constructed by 2024 through a combination of public and private development initiatives. If successful, this new housing stock will join an inventory of more than 33,000 PBSA spaces currently in place throughout Ireland.

Interestingly, and quite correctly, the strategy draws a straight line between the availability of affordable student housing stock and Ireland’s attractiveness as an international study destination.

“Continued increases in international student numbers, combined with the impact of increased domestic student numbers, will put further pressure on the availability of PBSA,” notes the national strategy report. “The availability of on-campus PBSA is an essential element of a HEI’s internationalisation strategy. HEIs have consistently reported that international students demand guaranteed accommodation for at least the first year at time of recruitment…[Further], research internationally has shown that students living in on-campus accommodation have higher retention rates than commuter students, and also exhibit higher scores on developmental scales.“

The larger context for government action on this issue is that higher education enrolments in Ireland have continued to climb over the past ten years and further growth is forecast through the mid-2020s. Part of this growth is to be derived from expanding international enrolments, as set out in the Irish Education Globally Connected strategy released in late-2016. Globally Connected anticipates a 33% increase in foreign enrolment in Irish higher education by 2019/2020.

For additional background, please see:

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