Housing crisis is eroding Irish education system's advantages

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Opinion piece by Laura Harmon, Executive Director, of the Irish Council for International Students that was published in the Irish Examiner on 31 October 2022.

This situation could have been mitigated if successive governments had listened to the experts, taken action, and planned ahead

Being the only EU country with English as its first language should be a huge advantage for Ireland.

Ireland has so much in its favour as a study destination. We have an excellent education system, a vibrant culture, and a beautiful landscape. 

We have education institutions that go the extra mile to support students and to provide the best student experience on campus. 

Since Brexit, Ireland has become the only country in the EU with English as its first language, making it an even more attractive place to study. 

Despite the many positives, we have an unprecedented housing crisis that is undermining all of this and impacting Ireland’s reputation abroad at the same time.

We have, perhaps, become desensitised to the word 'crisis' itself, since it has been used so much over the past decade in relation to housing in this country. 

Catastrophe, emergency, disaster – call it what we may but the reality is that this situation could have been mitigated if successive governments had listened to experts, taken action, and planned ahead.

Over-promise and under-deliver seems to be the strategy of Ireland’s government when it comes to housing policy. 

We can see the failings of successive Governments clearly; the lack of available accommodation for those seeking asylum here; the more than 10,000 people who are homeless; the 166,000 vacant properties across the country; the failure to enforce minimum standards, and the lack of affordable, purpose-built student accommodation.

Ongoing shambles

I was president of the Union of Students in Ireland eight years ago and the issue of student accommodation was a shambles then and it’s even more of a shambles now. 

The rent-a-room relief scheme is still being promoted as a band-aid. Successful as this scheme is, it will never solve the problem nor does it provide proper protection to students as the scheme isn’t covered under housing legislation.

Every August and September, we hear the horror stories of students trying to find a place to live – both domestic and international students. 

The stories have the same themes each year: the scramble for accommodation, the rising costs, couch surfing, scams, students sleeping in cars, long commutes, and overcrowding. 

It’s so predictable that media outlets can plan for coverage ahead of time. And next year will be no different because there are no short-term fixes in sight. 

The issue will take years to fix, just like Ireland’s reputation abroad, if actions aren’t taken now. 

Rory Hearne, author of the new book Gaffs, says that Ireland needs a similar approach to the housing crisis as we did for the pandemic. I agree with him.

The findings from the Irish Council for International Students’ accommodation survey show that two-thirds of international students said their mental health has been affected by the accommodation crisis. 

Fourteen percent of international students said they were subjected to an accommodation scam, with less than one-third reporting it to gardaí. 

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One in 10 students said it took them three months to find a place to live in Ireland. 

Seventy-four percent of English language students and more than a quarter of students studying in higher education share a room with at least one other person. 

Just 41% of English language students said they have a lease agreement. 

Is it any wonder that, last month, the French embassy issued a warning to its citizens who are thinking of coming to Ireland?

According to the Government, international students are worth €2.2bn to Ireland’s economy annually, which makes them important contributors. 

However, the positive effect of international students goes beyond their economic impact as they also enrich our education system and country culturally. 

The Government published a student accommodation strategy in 2017, yet amazingly there has been no report on its progress since 2019. 

Further Education Minister Simon Harris acknowledges the current strategy is not fit for purpose.

Further Education Minister Simon Harris has acknowledged that the current strategy is not fit for purpose. 

The Irish Council for International Students is also eagerly awaiting the publication of a new International Education Strategy for Ireland which is nearly two years overdue.

Based on research, the Irish Council for International Students has set out a number of recommendations to government, including: the construction of more affordable, purpose-built student accommodation; clear accommodation targets for the student population; an increase in inspections of private rental properties to ensure minimum standards; targeted information campaigns to prospective international students about how to find accommodation in Ireland and a new student accommodation strategy. 

While we acknowledge that some of these recommendations cannot happen overnight, and will require a long-term commitment from government, we firmly believe that action must be taken to improve the accommodation situation in order for Ireland to continue to be a leading education destination on the world stage.


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