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Ditch ensuites to make student housing cheaper, says Tech University head

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According to the former Principal of Trinity College Dublin, Dr. Patrick Prendergast, students would pay less for on-campus housing if private bathrooms weren’t the norm.

r Prendergast addressed the Oireachtas Board of Education in his new role as chair of South East Technological University (SETU), which formally launched earlier this month.

The committee discussed with Dr. Prendergast and the Chairs of two other TUs, Jimmy Deenihan of TU Munster and Josephine Fehily of TU Shannon: Midlands Midwest, on funding and borrowing for the Technical University (TU) sector.

Traditional universities have campus housing for students, but it has not been a practice in technical institutes, most of which have merged into five technical universities (TUs).

While campus housing is convenient and gets students out of the struggling private rental market, many cannot afford the interest charged by universities that have to pay back the cost of borrowing.

dr Prendergast told the committee student housing is “a very complicated thing, many of which are built to double up to be rented over the summer; It is of high quality with a private bathroom in each room.”

But he said many other countries have student housing “bathrooms at the end of corridors, shared bathrooms” that are cheaper to build and “perhaps we should think in those terms”.

He said there was likely scope for a task force across the higher education sector to look at how best to provide student accommodation.

Mr Deenihan said TUs’ ability to borrow money for infrastructure such as student accommodation is a problem.

While it was required by law, it was dependent on a not yet implemented Higher Education Authority (HEA) framework. This put TUs at a disadvantage compared to traditional universities that have access to the financial markets.

dr Deenihan said access to such financing is crucial, particularly in terms of capital development, along with government action to make construction costs affordable.

“It’s critical if TUs are to be part of the solution to the student housing crisis this country is facing,” he said.

Ms Fehily said even if on-campus housing was currently available, many of her students could not afford it and their provision would depend on “being creative with how many you fit in”.

She said that in recent years they have seen a student body become heavily dependent on public transport, commuting long distances home or couchsurfing.

She said accommodation isn’t just about a place to sleep, it’s about “not arriving exhausted and going home at night”.

It meant that the students did not join societies and did not take part in the cultural life of the university. Ms Fehily said student welfare is linked to good housing, “but it has to be housing that you can afford”.

The chairs of the three governing bodies also warned that TUs could not develop properly unless they were funded on the same basis as traditional universities.

Mr Deenihan said the current 60-40 split of government funding in favor of traditional universities is “arbitrary and unjustifiable”, particularly as the actual split of respective students between the two sectors is closer to 50-50.

Mr Deenihan said the funding model “maintains a two-tier system which is not in the best interests of the students, staff or the Irish taxpayers who fund it”.

He said while traditional universities received an allocation per student, budget funding for technical universities (TUs) is “fixed and static”.

This meant: “An increase in the number of students reduces the financed income available per student. This negatively impacts growth and is the exact opposite of what is required.”

He added, “In contrast, traditional universities were funded per student and thereby stimulated growth.”

In addition to the 60-40 split and static student funding, the state also pays less for postgraduates, including doctoral students, at TUs than at traditional universities, he said.

The government recently approved a new funding policy for higher education, investing €307 million in core funding, but there are no details yet on how it will be allocated.

The new funding commitment aims to help address a long-standing deficit in the industry caused by budget cuts implemented after the bank crash more than a decade ago.

But it also comes at a time when the new TUs were formed, with more ambitious missions than the institutes of technology they replaced.

Mr Deenihan told the committee that while they welcomed the €307m announcement, there were issues that needed to be addressed in order to create a “new and fit for purpose funding model” for TUs.

https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/education/ditch-the-ensuites-to-make-student-flats-cheaper-technological-university-chief-says-41658778.html Ditch ensuites to make student housing cheaper, says Tech University head

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