UCD brought in over €18 million in income from student residences in 2015 the Tribune can report. On-campus accommodation costs the college €7.7 million to run and maintain according to financial figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The bulk of the income generated came from rent, but also included running laundry and catering services. The breakdown in the costs of running accommodation included €348,000 in pay for those working is residential services, and €471,000 spent on minor works. €6.9 million was spent on general running costs.
University management in 2015 raised on-campus accommodation rents by 13%, as part of a plan to increase residency fees by 40% over three years. UCD followed this by raising rents by 7% for this 16/17 college term. The college administration at the time stated the increased rates were necessary in ‘order to fund the maintenance of existing residences and the development of further spaces’.
The €10.5 million profit the college turned over from campus accommodation was put towards capital developments for future accommodation blocs, and interest payments towards recently built new accommodation.
However, UCD financial reports from 2012 show other factors in UCD’s decision to raise rents over a number of years. In 2012 the college brought in €15.9 million from Residences but in 2013 UCD’s income stream from campus accommodation fell to €14.8 m.
Students’ Union President Conor Viscardi said he has been in dialogue with university management over further increases for next year, which he stated would only be in the ‘range of 2-3%’.
The latest accommodation bloc to be developed is Ashfield, a 354-bed complex beside Belgrove residences. The building contract of Ashfield alone, awarded to Collen construction is believed to have cost €15.5 million. Rent in Ashfield is one of the highest across student residences, at €8,104 a year. And the total intake of rent from Ashfield accommodation is valued at €2.8 million a year for UCD.
The Ashfield bloc is the first finished project in UCD’s residency masterplan, which is looking to increase the current capacity of 3,164 residences up to nearly 6,000 beds. Commenting on the proposed plan SU President Viscardi said the new Ashfield bloc was only ‘financially realised by increased rates in on campus accommodation’. The future planned blocs would be built in the fields between Roebuck accommodation, the back of the Law building, and the space adjacent to Centra and Merville residences. But Viscardi said these developments should have to be paid for ‘in a manner which does not inflict a further financial burden on students’ like more rent increases.
Viscardi said these developments should have to be paid for ‘in a manner which does not inflict a further financial burden on students’
Currently the profits from Residences (or ‘Res’) rents are ring-fenced to be spent on maintenance or on building more accommodation. The college contributes the majority of capital funding for building works from its development budget. But by increasing their profits through raising rent from Res the college can free up capital funds to put towards building works elsewhere.
The plans to nearly double UCD’s on-campus accommodation ties in with the college’s internationalisation effort. In trying to attract more international students (who pay between €17,000 – €25,000 in fees a year) UCD identified the shortage of residency units on campus as a problem. Reports from the Governing Authority from 2013, which is final decision making body in UCD, state there was ‘strong demand for bed spaces for international students’ exceeding beds available.
In late 2013 the college altered the allocation of Res places, to give priority to international students and first years. The new priority policy saw 1,292 beds of last year’s total 2,810 accommodation places reserved for international students. The rationale behind this policy is twofold, first as international students would find it difficult to house hunt in the local private market from abroad, being able to secure on-campus accommodation would increase their likelihood of choosing to study in UCD. Secondly, as international students pay much higher fees then they would also be able to afford high residency rent.
But the 20% increase in Res rent was criticised by both Irish and international students. Jamie Mcloughlin, a final year Law and Politics student from Kerry who lives in Roebuck said the ‘cost has gone up dramatically in the past number of years’. Although he said his experience living in Res has generally been really positive the recent increase in rent ‘isn’t justified’. The argument that the hikes in rents are needed to pay for more accommodation developments just isn’t fair argued Jamie. ‘We who are currently living there are subsidising future people’ and future Res developments.
‘When I was in first year a lot of the people in my class were living on campus, and then from second year it just become unsustainable, they couldn’t keep up with the rising cost’ he said. ‘We know the wider problems with the housing market, and the difficulty students have in finding accommodation, I don’t think dramatically increasing prices was the best response they could have taken in UCD’ Mcloughlin claimed. The Law student felt the college was unfairly hiking prices in an attempt to further monetise international students. ‘It’s cheaper for a lot of them to study in Ireland [compared to America] so they don’t mind paying higher accommodation rates … We all agree we need to build more accommodation, [but] there’s no good building new accommodation if its unaffordable’. ‘I think the Students’ Union need to be more active on the issue’ claimed Mcloughlin.
‘I don’t think dramatically increasing prices was the best response they could have taken in UCD’ Mcloughlin claimed’
Ash Bagla, a fourth year Food Science international student said he felt the the policy of shifting priority towards international students but at the same time raising rates was ‘scheming’. He was critical of the 20% rent hikes, saying ‘it should be more transparent, they are charging so much – where is this money going? Either this should be invested back into different activities that are planned throughout the year. But the university should not be allowed to make profit on residents’.
Rents for on-campus accommodation are higher than most private rental rooms near UCD. Rates in Merville and Belgrove are €6,607. Glenoma and Ashfield are significantly higher at €8,104 for a college term.
Students’ Union President Viscardi said he would be arguing for the university to consider ‘alternative sources of capital funding’ for future Res building projects.
Jack Power | Editor