A two-tier student experience is now emerging within agricultural science colleges as young people contend with the increasing costs of accommodation. Those living on or near campus are having a very different college experience to those who are commuting long distances.

This is according to Martha Ní Riada, students’ union (SU) president at University College Dublin (UCD). “Students who struggle to find housing often miss out on many of the social aspects of college as well as experiencing burnout from long commutes,” she says.

Her comments are on the back of the Students Union 2023 housing survey, where 45% of students from the College of Health and Agricultural Studies either agreed or strongly agreed that ‘finding accommodation/my current accommodation has had a negative impact on my mental health’.

While accommodation has been an ongoing issue in the capital city for many years, the effects are now being felt in colleges across the country. The ATU (Atlantic Technological University) students’ union has experienced a shift in the third-level experience, says Barry Breslin, SU president of ATU Donegal.

Barry Breslin, SU president in ATU

“The accommodation situation has become a commonplace struggle for our students,” he says. “There has been a significant change in the third-level experience.

“More students than ever are commuting from neighbouring towns or driving themselves, which has spilled over into issues with the parking availability here at ATU Donegal.

“Our financial services have also seen an increase in demand as students try to pay for their accommodation, buy their weekly shopping and manage a part-time job, all while trying to stay on top of their studies.

“We expect further pressure to be put on our availability with the start of the next semester in January. Our advice for students is to check out atusudonegal.ie/accommodation/ where we will post up any availability.”

Irish Country Living spoke to three agricultural science students who have been affected by the cost of accommodation, which has resulted in long commutes.

Student experiences

University College Dublin (UCD) Emma Gowing, Co Offaly

Emma Gowing, 4th year studying BSc in Agriculture Science majoring in Animal and Crop production.

Fourth-year student, BSc in Agriculture Science majoring in Animal and Crop production

“Looking at the cost of accommodation in Dublin, I decided I would get the train for the first semester to find my bearings and get to know the people. Little did I know, starting my final semester in fourth year, I would still be commuting.

“Many of our lectures start at 9am — I leave home at 6.30am and face the one-hour-and-20-minute drive. I find that commuting is very tiring. Ideally, I would go to the library for a while, however, you either leave campus at 4pm latest or wait until the traffic dies down at 7pm.

“Driving up and down to campus five days a week costs me €150- €200. When I was looking for accommodation in Dublin, generally it would be €900-plus monthly. I have been able to juggle a part-time job throughout the course of my degree, which funded my diesel for commuting.

“I find the biggest challenge imposed by commuting is how tiring it is. Spending over three hours on the road every day leaves you with very little energy. It is also very challenging from a social perspective. Now in my final year, there are people in digs, hostels, AirBnBs or they are staying with family, friends or in over-capacity houses. That leaves it difficult to arrange a night out for those of us commuting.”

Atlantic Technological University (ATU) Daniel O’Connor, Grange, Co Sligo

Daniel O'Connor with his winning bull at Finn valley agricultural show 2023 pictured with judge Chris Johnston

Second-year student, BSc Agriculture Science in ATU Letterkenny

“It takes me an hour-and-a-half to get into college in the morning. I have to be gone from the house before 8am if I want to get into lectures on time.

“One of the main disadvantages to commuting is you would be tired, it’s a long drive every day, especially in the dark. It’s hard to find accommodation as there is no real student accommodation in Letterkenny itself, it is all outside of the town. It’s also expensive — I I stayed for a little while last year and it was €130 a week for a room in a house. The man who owned the house was also living there; you wouldn’t be having any drinks at night in digs or living the college life, as they say.

“I am in college four days a week, which is why I decided to commute. When I am in college five days a week next year, I don’t think I will be able to commute, it’s costly on the car and it’s three hours driving a day.”

University College Dublin (UCD) Cian Mongey, Stackallen, Co Meath

Cian Mongey, final year student in UCD

Final-year student, BSc in Agriculture majoring in Agricultural Systems Technology

“My sole reason for commuting is the cost of living in Dublin. For the sake of a box room in a house with five to six other people, you could be looking at close to €1,000 per month with utilities included.

“I leave my home at 6.30am and arrive home between 6-8pm in the evening, depending on my timetable. The journey takes roughly one-and-a-half to two hours each way, depending on the traffic.

“I saved enough money from not paying for accommodation to purchase a decent car. However, it works out cheaper to park the car and take the bus. It’s €6 per day by bus and you can relax and even sleep a bit of the way.

“Without a doubt, not living in Dublin has had a big effect on my social life. It is more convenient to go home, than to go on a night out and have to arrange a floor to sleep. I have definitely missed out on some great events due to the fact I’m living at home.

“Commuting has definitely impacted my academic experience. There are some days on my timetable, where I only have one or two hours of classes in a day, I don’t see it fit that I spend upwards of four hours travelling.

“I cannot see the rental market improving anytime soon, but what I would like to see is a bigger emphasis on remote learning and hybrid attendance.”

What supports and accommodation are available?

Available student supports

Each college has a students’ union (SU) that provides free advice and services to help students navigate the challenges of finding accommodation and dealing with financial pressures.

Other available supports:

The Residential Tenancy Board has an online dispute service for anyone having troubles with their landlord. For more information, visit rtb.ie

Money Advice and Budgeting

Services (MABS) is the Irish money advice service, offering free, confidential and independent financial advice. For more information,

visit mabs.ie

Threshold is a national charity that offers advice and is working towards ending homelessness. For more information, visit threshold.ie.

How to find accommodation

If you are searching for accommodation or starting college next September, here are some tips for finding accommodation.

For on-campus housing or private student accommodation, get in

touch with the provider or look on college websites to see prices and availability.

Some hotels are offering student rates for those who need to be near their campus for a few days at a time, but who aren’t planning on living in student accommodation full-time. Check hotels near your campus and see what they are offering.

Check notice boards on campus, where students often put-up notices seeking housemates, as well as houses offering lodgings off campus. It is a good idea to ask students in their final year if they know of any accommodation as the majority of them will be moving out next year when they are finished college.

There are a number of useful websites where you can search for a room, a house to rent with other students or digs. College Cribs is specific for student accommodation you can filter by city and college. For more information, visit collegecribs.iew

Other helpful websites include daft.ie or myhome.ie

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