Continuous price hikes for on-campus accommodation has had no effect on the demand for beds in the UCD Residences. Information obtained by the Tribune has revealed that on-campus accommodation occupancy rates averaged 94% in September 2016, 99.1% in October 2016, and 98.2% in March 2017.
Only Roebuck Castle Catered and the now closed Muckross Halls Residence had less than 92% of their rooms filled for the start of the last academic year. Once the year began, occupancy rates rapidly rose, with 6 of the 9 Residences at over 99% capacity in October 2016.
UCD’s most recent development, Ashfield, opened last year. 340 of its 356 beds were filled in September 2016. It was at full capacity in both October 2016 and March 2017. Accommodation costs for last year were €8,104 for the two semesters. This year, the rate is €8,334. Construction costs were estimated at €15.5 million last year, while income of €2.8 million was projected for its first year. After letting out all of its rooms during the year, UCD should achieve this projected income target.
The 2015/2016 academic year saw a 13% increase in rent, as part of UCD’s plan to raise its residency fees by 40% over three years. A further 7% increase was implemented for the 2016/2017 year. Conor Viscardi, then UCD Students’ Union President, confirmed that rent increases for 2017/2018 would be in the “range of 2-3%.” Last year, the Tribune revealed that UCD received €18 million in income from student residences in 2015. Maintenance expenses cost €7.7 million, leaving the university with over €10 million in profit.
A full 3% increase has been applied to licence fees this year. The cost of utilities, insurance, and catering is the same as last year. For example, the licence fees for Ashfield, Glenomena, Proby, and Roebuck Castle were all € 7,673 for 2016/2017. The €230 rise for each of these puts the licence fee for this year at €7903, or a full 3% price hike. The increase meant the price for each of the residences went from €8,104 to €8,334. This represents an overall increase of 2.8%.
Ashfield accommodation in UCD. (Photo credit: ucd.ie)
Belgrove had 779 places available last September. 746 of these were taken in that month, while 778 were filled in October 2016. The number dropped by 2 to 776 in March this year. It cost €6,607 for last year, and has now risen to €6,792. Occupancy rates at Merville were similar to Belgrove. Both cost the same last year and this year. Merville had 564 of 610 beds occupied last September. This rose to 608 in October and 609 in March. Glenomena had 699 of its 736 beds occupied last September. Occupancy rates rose to 732 in October and fell slightly to 723 in March. Glenomena cost €8,104 last year, and €8,334 this year. Roebuck Halls Residence had 297 places filled out of 300 in September 2016. It was at full capacity in October, then had 4 empty beds in March.
There are two main residences at the Blackrock Campus. The Blackrock Halls had 138 of 142 available places filled in September 2016. This increased to 141 in October, then dropped back to 134 in March. The Halls are part of UCD’s Blackrock campus. The Proby Residence, located on Carysfort Avenue in Blackrock, had 114 spaces last September. 108 of these were filled that month. Occupancy increased to 111 beds in October, then fell to 99 beds in March. While targeted at students who attend the Michael Smurfit School of Business, they are open to all students. The Tribune previously revealed in February that UCD was spending €2.5 million to turn 40 old rooms on the Blackrock Campus into corporate seminar rooms.
The two catered options, Muckross Halls and Roebuck Castle Catered, had the lowest percentage of occupied beds out of all the Residences in September 2016. 51 beds out of 62 were filled in Muckross Halls in September, 53 in October, and 49 in March. Only 94 of the 133 places available at Roebuck Castle Catered were occupied last September. However, occupancy shot up to 124 in October, then up to 131 in March. Muckross cost € 8,272 for the year. Roebuck Castle Catered was the most expensive option available on campus, costing €10,480. This year it is available for €10,710. These prices all include the €2,376 catering cost.
The cost of accommodation in the Residences far exceeds tuition fees of students. An Irish student who qualifies for free fees would have to pay the €3,000 Student Registration Charge and the €254 Student Levy to attend UCD for the year. Only Blackrock Halls is cheaper than twice that amount. It costs double that figure to stay in Belgrove or Merville, while a catered experience in Roebuck Castle is triple the cost of fees. UCD has increasingly targeted non-EU fee paying students for on-campus accommodation as it is more difficult for them to secure accommodation from abroad, while their higher tuition fees means UCD sees them as being more able to pay the higher accommodation costs. Since 2013, an increased number of residences are reserved for first years and international students.
The UCD Residences Masterplan aims to have 6,000 bedrooms available for students in the coming years. UCD’s Campus Development website states that “a planning application will be submitted shortly for the masterplan, with developments being proposed to be delivered in a phased basis over a 5-7 year timeframe.” Ashfield is the first completed project of the Masterplan, but was financed by rent hikes. Barry Murphy, UCDSU Campaigns & Communications Officer, commented “it’s great that UCD have 3,000 new beds in the pipeline and that building them is a priority.” However, he expressed disappointment that “this expansion of Res is being funded by rent increases on existing units, which means that campus accommodation has gotten more and more expensive over the past 4 years.”
The exact number of beds available remains slightly unclear. The FOI obtained by the Tribune listed the total number of beds at 3,230. The webpage from the UCD Residences Masterplan is dated February 2017. At that time, UCD claimed to have 3,170 beds on campus. The numbers in the two could be explained with reference to beds not openly available to students. For example, the FOI listed the capacity of the Muckross Halls Residence at 62 beds. When the Tribune reported last month that the Residence would not be available for students this year, Eilis O’Brien, Director of Communication and Marketing at UCD, confirmed that there were 47 beds taken off the market. Yet, there were at least 49 occupied beds there during the 2016/2017 academic year, according to the FOI.
The 354 beds in Ashfield helped to offset the closure of the 40 rooms in Blackrock last year. However, the announcement that the Muckross Halls Residence would no longer be available for students this year brings UCD’s capacity down by another 47 places. Last month, the Tribune broke the story about the Muckross Halls closure. UCD rented the residence in Donnybrook on a year-by-year basis from the Dominican Order. The Order opted against renewing the lease this year as it plans to build a school on the land. Speaking to the Tribune at the time, O’Brien stated the Muckross was “always a short-term arrangement as it is our intention to expand and manage on-campus accommodation” and noted it was “historically was less popular than on-campus accommodation.”
High costs have deterred many students from seeking accommodation on campus, but those on the hunt off campus are also facing many difficulties. Eoghan Mac Domhnaill, UCDSU Welfare Officer, explained how the Union has been “inundated throughout the summer with students contacting us about accommodation. The general lack of supply, along with the poor standard of housing and massive rents have left students really struggling for accommodation.”
Cian Carton – Co-Editor