As UCD is revealed to have the most expensive campus accommodation in the country, Quinton O’Reilly asks how such costs can be justified.
For the majority of students, the cost of living is an unavoidable and pressing concern. Being able to fund the price of fees, books, transport, food and an active social life are some of the many costs that must be budgeted for. However, the single greatest cost that students will face is the price of accommodation, which can be at times a daunting prospect, especially for those who are only starting university.
Finding a place to live when you’ve only just moved out of home is a significant challenge. This is why one of the most attractive options that new students face is the chance to live on campus. At face value, the benefits to living on campus are obvious: immediate access to the campus and its facilities, the chance to live with other students, and to reside in a safe and secure environment.
However, a report compiled by UCD Students’ Union has revealed that the cost of on-campus accommodation in UCD is the most expensive of all the universities in Ireland. A student could be paying up to €5,324 per year for the opportunity to live on-campus compared to €4,916 at Trinity College Dublin, €4,180 at NUI Maynooth and €4,881 at University College Cork. While the price of rent in Dublin city has decreased in recent times, UCD has instead proceeded in the opposite direction by increasing its own by an average of five per cent each year since 2004-05.
We must question what reasoning the university has for increasing these costs. The main reason behind this increase in pricing would usually be pinned down to demand. For a university that hosts over 20,000 students, campus accommodation can only facilitate around 3,000 students, or 15 per cent, of the student population. However, the extortinate prices charged by UCD on-campus accomodation means that it is struggling to fill rooms.
In an economic context, since there is a high demand for a very limited number of places, increasing the prices would make sense as the university would then receive more funds without experiencing a drop in numbers. The fact that the price of accommodation rose again for this term despite the economic problems that the country is currently experiencing only strengthens this theory. Except the plan has failed UCD this year, as places remain unfilled and unwanted due to the high cost and relatively poor amenities.
If the university are following this logic of supply and demand, they are effectively alienating those who may not have the financial means to afford this accommodation and prioritising those who can. Students today are facing a vastly different world than those who attended university five years ago. Personal income has dropped, unemployment has risen, part-time work is becoming harder to find, and a record number of students are now applying to the student welfare fund for financial support.
Students are under more financial pressure than ever before, and maintaining or increasing this level of costs will only exacerbate this problem. Not only will it limit the options for those who can’t afford it, it could mean that the only students who will live there are the ones who can afford to pay such sums – prioritising those who can afford it rather than those who need it and would benefit from it the most. Would it be fair if, for example, a student who suffers from a disability is unable to have access to something they’d consider a necessity and not just a convenience, simply because they are unable to afford it?
Similarly, when one considers that the cost of off-campus accommodation has fallen over the last few months, living elsewhere has become a more feasible option for students who need to be more stringent with their finances. It makes perfect sense to pay for a cheaper option if there is very little difference, if any, between them.
A further deterrent could be the social aspect of campus life. While it is true that living on campus offers residents easy access to the campus and its facilities, the majority of campus facilities are closed at weekends – leaving little benefit to being on campus at that time. Such issues must be considered by the university if campus accommodation is to remain an attractive option for students.
While it is uncertain whether or not the university will increase the cost of accommodation for the coming year, it must clearly review the situation and decide whether charging such amounts will benefit them in the long run. While there are plans to increase the number of spaces on campus, it is clear that UCD is already feeling the financial pressure of being overpriced and lacking in applicants to fill the rooms it already has, without even thinking of the ones it is now building.