Minister for Further Education Simon Harris said the state’s current policy on student accommodation and housing is “not working” when speaking to the Oireachtas Education Committee to discuss the establishment of the Munster Technological University (MTU).

In response to the concerns raised by Sinn Féin Education Spokesman, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, that private accommodation companies would increase rents for students, Harris said that he did not think the state’s policy on student accommodation was “robust enough”. He further suggested that a new funding model should be developed that would allow technological universities to build student accommodation.

Harris stated in August that students should have rents refunded in the event of a second lockdown. In spite of this, it is understood by the College Tribune that students have not received any communication from UCD Residences in relation to potential reimbursement or support due to the online semester or the second lockdown, despite being routinely reminded not to have any visitors and to maintain hygiene standards. 

Many students secured accommodation in anticipation of a certain number of face-to-face classes after UCD had assured students over the summer that semester one would be conducted in a blended format. UCD then announced three days before the start of the semester that classes and activities would take place online while the country was under level 3 COVID-19 restrictions with UCD operating under level 4, leaving many students in on-campus accommodation with no contact hours at all. 

The USI and Sinn Féin Spokeswoman Rose Conway-Walsh condemned the department’s last-minute decision in late September to move all third level education to online as students already had plans in place and had paid for accommodation.

Independent TD Denis Naughten told the Dáil in October that private student accommodation providers who “point blank, after repeated requests from Government, refused to refund students” for initial instalments or deposits paid before the online semester was announced should not be eligible under any circumstances for coronavirus-related supports and tax reliefs. 

Students told the College Tribune that complaints to the UCD IT services regarding poor WIFI connectivity and poor service on campus and in residences in particular have been ignored. Students say that lecture recordings buffering every 3-5 seconds does away with any notion of time-management. They worry that the WIFI repeatedly cutting out and the lack of service for mobile data will unfairly impact their exams as well. 

It is also understood by the College Tribune that buildings such as UCD Sutherland School of Law and UCD O’Brien Centre for Science are closing earlier than normal with no explanation, depriving students of decent WIFI spots as exam season approaches. 

The College Tribune reached out to UCD Residences and UCD Campus Services for comment, but received no response at the time of publication. 

*Response received on the 17th of November from UCD Residences*

UCD Residences have commented on the above concerns noted by students. Firstly, regarding the issue of refunds:

“Students in residences were emailed several weeks ago to advise them of the refunds available to them as regards on-campus accommodation.

In this communication, they were informed that if they had booked campus accommodation, paid their deposit and/or instalment, not yet checked-in and now decide not to take up their accommodation, they will receive a full refund, including the €50 administration fee. They were also advised that if a student had already moved into accommodation and now wishes to withdraw from their lease, they can do so. In such circumstances the amount of the instalment paid, less the amount incurred for the duration of time from the date of check-in to the date of cancellation and departure will be refunded on a pro-rata basis.”

Secondly, regarding the lack of adequate WiFi connectivity:

“Any reported issues with WIFI are addressed by residences.”

Thirdly, regarding building opening and closing times:

“Building opening and closing hours have not changed.”

Iseult O’Callaghan – Reporter