ATU Donegal and (inset) Students' Union President Edward Grant.
A deepening housing crisis has seen accommodation available to students in Letterkenny fall by 63 per cent - at a time when the Atlantic Technological University Donegal campus is anticipating record numbers.
An accommodation list will be released to students on Monday ahead of the new college term. That list will show only 123 beds, a figure that is down from 331 last year - a drop of 62.8 per cent.
Students’ Union representatives have spoken to college chiefs on the matter with the possibility of locating caravans or other temporary accommodation measures on campus.
Anecdotally, Edward Grant, the Students’ Union President at ATU Donegal, has learned of some examples that show just how stark the lack of accommodation has become.
In the last college term, two students traveled to and from Dublin three days a week to attend courses. Another family told how they felt that paying a second mortgage on a house was a better option than attempting to rent in Leterkenny.
“The problem is desperate in Letterkenny,” Grant told Donegal Live.
The population of full-time students at ATU Donegal was 4,000 last year and is expected to increase to somewhere close to 5,000 when the new term begins.
The full-house signs are already up for accommodation at the Ballyraine Campus, which can house 195 students.
A large number of repeat students reside at the Ballyrains Campus, which is also home to a high volume of students who have deferred part of their course.
The accommodation blocks at the Ballyraine Campus
The issues was exacerbated in July when 50 students - who paid security deposits as early as March - had accommodation offers withdrawn at Walnut Grove.
An email advised that deposits were being returned and the offer of accommodation withdrawn ‘as a result of costs incurred to refurbish the accommodation’.
In recent weeks, 113 Ukrainian refugees have since moved into Walnut Grove, figures seen by Donegal Live show.
“We have no purpose build student accommodation in Letterkenny and it doesn’t look as if that will be got any time soon,” Grant says.
“Simon Harris (Minister for Education) said recently about capital grants maybe coming available for developers, but that means that the accommodation will remain in the private sector.
“In the first two weeks last year, we had over 300 people ringing us - and that’s not even the complete student population either. We know that we will have well in excess of 300 calls and there just aren’t enough rooms or beds available. We could have names for around three times the accommodation that is actually available.”
At the end of the last academic year, 14 students were living in hotels in Letterkenny - a practice that will continue for the 2022/23 terms, subject to room availability.
The average rent cost for students in Leterkenny is €450 per month. The lowest cost for a student sharing a hotel room in Letterkenny was €320, the Students’ Union President said.
ATU Donegal will host over 160 International students who will be in the last year of their studies.
“We cannot expand into Northern Ireland to get accommodation for these people now due to visa requirements,” Grant says.
“There is no immediate solution. This crisis is something that should have been tackled by the government ten years ago. We have been lobbying to push for capital grant for Technical Universities.
“An extra 1,056 CAO places were made available in Ireland this year - but there just isn’t the accommodation to house that increase.
“The local economy could be crippled with this crisis and the local nightlife decimated. There is a knock-on effect everywhere with a problem like this.”
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