Members of UL Student Life have promised to continue lobbying for accommodation and improved car parking services
By Riona Maguire
Desperate students at the University of Limerick have called out for better quality housing, more food options, improved parking, reliable public transport and activities not based around drinking culture in a forum with Student Life representatives on Wednesday, October 19.
Speaking at the forum, members of UL Student Life promised students they are continuing to lobby for more accommodation, improved car parking services on campus and a commuter hub.
The promise comes after a shocking survey, conducted by Communities Officer Laura Corcoran, revealed that over 35% of UL students still cannot find suitable accommodation for the semester. Many are being forced to commute long distances, stay in hotels or sleep in cramped conditions in order to access their education.
The findings, which include testimonials from students who are being forced to sleep in their cars, use public showers and sleep in damp and mouldy living conditions, show that those who have found accommodation are relying largely on the private rental sector, with 48.4% of 1,200 students surveyed renting from a private landlord.
Speaking at the forum, Student Welfare Officer Maeve Gilmore said, “This is a lot for a market which is already under a huge amount of pressure.”
ULSL President Maeve Rutledge presented these findings to the Minister for Education, Simon Harris, as he met with representatives of student unions across Ireland two weeks ago.
A direct line of communication through a liaison officer has since been set up between Minister Harris and third level institutions across Ireland.
Following controversy over the UL Student Centre – which has been under construction since 2019 – Student Life have said that work is expected to resume in early January, with an estimated completion date of Spring 2024. There are currently seven construction companies bidding for the project, with a new contractor to be appointed before Christmas, following deliberation.
The centre, with a total project cost in the region of €20 million, is being funded on a partnership basis between students and the University. UL students voted in 2016 by way of referendum to fund almost 80% of the capital cost through a development levy.
The University of Limerick has agreed to reduce the current student levy by 50% as a gesture of appreciation for students’ patience, and to acknowledge the delay. The remaining 50% will repay loans for the climbing wall and Maguires Pitches, all anchors of the Leave a Legacy Referendum 2016 project.
The forum provided a chance for students to speak up about their experiences in UL and highlight any problems they want Student Life to address.
One student commented, “I personally asked my landlord to put down mousetraps, get rid of mould, turn on the heating, turn on the wifi, at separate times during the year and each time I was told if I didn’t like it, I could leave anytime I wanted and she could easily replace me. Being in a position where you could be kicked out of the house because there’s no contract signed is not a great position to be in.”
Another added, “Counselling services are under pressure and students can’t get access to appointments. It’s a really small service for so many students. Many international students cannot use the chaplaincy.”
Others called out for more resources on North Campus, improved accommodation services, more food options on campus and period products stocked in bathrooms.
In a previous statement on the current student accommodation climate, UL Communications Officer Alan Owens told Limerick Voice, “University of Limerick is very mindful that the availability of high quality, conveniently located and affordable accommodation is essential for students to thrive, and for the University’s continued academic, social, sporting, and cultural prosperity.
“UL managed accommodation is available to 16% of the UL student population, the highest percentage of any HEI in Ireland. Plassey Campus Centre (PCC) manages the student residences on the UL campus, with a total of 2,850 beds on offer.
“Almost 1,200 first year students have been housed in bedrooms across the on-campus accommodation portfolio. UL has established a Student Accommodation Officer role this year to assist in identifying off campus accommodation for UL students.”
Mr Owens explained that UL are working alongside other third level institutes in an effort to highlight the housing crisis currently affecting students, saying, “UL, with, TUSMM and MIC, are working together on an awareness campaign to highlight the lack of available student accommodation in Limerick and to encourage homeowners with empty bedrooms to consider letting out their rooms to students.
“UL is one of the only third level institutions to run an off-campus accommodation website where students can access details of off campus private accommodation options. There are 75 off campus accommodation options available in digs/homestay arrangements on the website currently.”