At the start of the college year last September, Seán Hogan found himself sleeping in a cupboard under the stairs in a friend’s house, due to a lack of affordable accommodation.
Studying in University of Limerick (UL), he spent the first few weeks of the college term sleeping in the space which was just big enough to fit a mattress.
“Instead of being a junk press, a single mattress was put in… I was living there and everyone was kinda joking about it,” Mr Hogan said.
“I was like, compared to the reality of spending two hours in a car every day, paying for fuel, and all the associated costs with that, it would be considerably easier,” he said. Mr Hogan, who is studying physics and chemistry with teaching, said the situation was “not ideal”.
Living in Co Clare before the college year started, the student said the traffic driving to UL in the morning would have left him with a two hour commute some days. He had looked for accommodation but was unable to find any in his budget before classes began last September.
After sleeping in the cupboard under the stairs for several weeks, he was able to find accommodation with his partner.
Students’ unions criticised the Government and universities for failing to do more to help students who were struggling to find housing in advance of college starting last September, warning some people would have to defer their studies as a result.
Mahnoor Choudhry, a final year law student in University College Dublin (UCD), has a commute of up to two hours to the South Dublin university from Balbriggan, in north Co Dublin.
“It’s crazy because I still live in Dublin, but the commute takes me as long as it would take somebody outside of Dublin commuting to UCD,” she said.
After taking a year out last year, Ms Choudhry said that coming back to college “has certainly been a bit daunting and stressful”. She was also unable to get any work or study done during the commute as public transport was “so crowded”.
“There’s a constant sense of anxiety about making the next bus and making the next train,” she said.
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“I generally tend to skip lectures as well, because of the commute. I think it’s more bang for my buck if I am staying at home and studying uninterrupted.” Rental accommodation near the Belfield campus was simply too expensive, she said.
Group projects had been “really hard” to facilitate, as many students were living outside of Dublin and had to commute home after lectures, Ms Choudhry said.
“One of my group projects had to be done entirely online because one of the girls in my group was unable to find accommodation in Dublin and was living at home in Donegal.
“My student experience can be defined by just waiting for trains and buses, being in a rush to get college work done. I’m spreading myself so thin between the commuting, the working, and trying to have somewhat of a social life.”
One student, who did not wish to be named, said they had to defer their final year studying commerce in UCD as the cost of rent was too high.
The student said deferring the year had lifted a weight off their shoulders, between the stress of working longer hours to afford rent and completing college work. “I know I should return [next year] but it’s hard to say at the moment,” they said.
Falaena Rothwell, an American from California in her final year studying politics at UCD, is renting an apartment in Donnybrook with her younger sister, who is also a student and sleeps on a bed in the livingroom.
The rent is €1,680 a month, but bills and utilities are not included, which has been an issue during the colder winter months.
The pair have been served an eviction notice by their landlord to leave the property by next May, and already have been stressed trying to source alternative accommodation.
Ms Rothwell said her sister had been “freaking out” about being evicted and trying to find a new rental home during college exams in May.
The sisters have already begun searching for new accommodation but found most options are “too far away, too expensive or only available five days out of the week”, she said.
Another student, studying video game design in Ballyfermot College of Further Education, said he had moved back to his family home in Co Wicklow, due to a lack of decent housing in Dublin.
Colm, who did not wish to have his full name published, said he had been renting a small room for €605 a month. “You could fit a bed and a desk and that was it,” he said.
Now he leaves his house at 6.30am to travel to college and some days only gets home after his part-time job at 9pm.
“I probably run on an average of about like 3½ to five hours of sleep, depending on the day,” he said.
The long commute has left him “running on fumes” between his studies and part-time work.
The student said he was looking to rent somewhere near his campus, that was affordable and a “liveable space”, but felt at this point such accommodation “just doesn’t exist”.