Higher Education and Even Higher Rents


There is a serious concern about the long term effects that higher rents in urban areas could have on third level choice in Ireland. This is not a short term concern, and the impacts countrywide could change the way Ireland develops forever.

Trending in the news over the past few days has been the unwelcome reports of the rapidly increasing rent prices countrywide. The release of this data in the form of the annual Daft report on rental prices seemingly coincided with the release of CAO first place offers. When the joy of the first-round offers has subsided, the difficult decisions will come to light. Not for the first time, genuine worry will encapsulate the mood as young men and women eager to embark on the rest of their lives need to make significant financial decisions. It is fair to say that these decisions have been made for decades, but it is equally fair to say that the past number of years have seen rent increases which may well change the way school leavers make important decisions about their higher education.

Much of what this article will entail will be speculative, although since I started writing it I’ve seen more related examples. I think that there is a distinct possibility that much of what will follow here may happen, as it may already be the case, and it is hard to predict to what extent it is already occurring. I fear a little that this article will also add another straw towards breaking the camel’s back as Ireland grows tired of the problems in our housing sector. Someone might say ‘not another problem’, and see university students as less of a priority. It is my feeling though that the issues here could accentuate an already overstretched system and put greater pressures in areas where previously it has not proven to be an issue.

The increasing rent prices, regardless of who is to blame for them, will impact on where people decide to take their third level study, if it hasn’t already happened. The scale with which this will happen is probably something we can’t measure, and while large numbers of students who live in the likes of Dublin or Cork may have less to be concerned about, students from rural areas or outside of major towns and cities who work hard for excellent exam results may be forced to choose courses based on proximity above all other factors.

Going to third level for the first time is a big step, not just for the student but also for the family, who experience their son or daughter with a very different lifestyle and with more independence. Parents recognise this and do their best to support their children on this important journey. If we start looking at situations where a family is left looking at trying to afford urban rent prices, especially those in Dublin, tough family decisions will be made. Families and individuals and will not only be looking at the quality of the course they choose, but the overall economic value of higher education.

Higher education institutes in Ireland struggle as it is to justify the value their courses have to individuals, and you could suggest that it isn’t really their fault that rents are as high as they are. But I don’t really think that matters, because when me make a decision like this, we take everything into consideration and evaluate the finished project. If you think of it a bit like a Ryanair flight that you buy to London Stansted or Paris Beauvais for €10, but when you arrive you discover all the add-ons of time and travel into the city, the value of the deal is somewhat reduced. I use this analogy merely to simplify my point. I wish choosing a college course or career was as easy as buying cheap flights online, but for the most part it is a more complex task.

I take a particular view of education and higher education in particular, and that is the education is there for helping you to grow and improve as an individual, and this can be achieved through learning. I don’t subscribe to the idea that education is primarily for employment, although it is significant, and I think when people choose a higher education course many also take the importance of these broader social and experiential benefits into account. When the cost of study increases, and especially for those who make a proportionally large financial investment for accommodation and living, the way they choose their courses will change. We have increased our propensity for considering the job trends when choosing our courses, especially since the recession, but with recovery we have become more selective in our choices, and with the advice that we give. Employability takes a precedent, and if you are to leave university with a significant debt following four years of renting in Dublin, for example, the importance of promptly entering employment will loom over new graduates.

You’ll have to forgive me for my constant references to Dublin in this article, but it is the centre of Irish higher education. Dublin has over 100,000 full and part-time students in higher education. There are three universities, three institutes of technology, as well as numerous high-quality private colleges with fine reputations. Not only this, it is home to some very specialised courses, such as veterinary, and some of its bigger universities are certainly attractive to ambitious students. I think that if you look around the country at the other universities you can say the same things, but my knowledge stems from Dublin. You could also say that Ireland is a small country and we believe if you work hard your results will matter more than where you got them, and I couldn’t agree more. However, we also spent much of our time reinforcing the idea that if you’re good enough you can go wherever you want to study in Ireland, because if you have the points then the world is your oyster. But times are changing, yet we can only predict how quickly and dynamically they flux.

As I mentioned, people will begin to choose courses based on proximity over the courses suitability or the individual’s desire or ambition. I am aware that this happens already, indeed when I filled out my own CAO I didn’t pick anywhere I couldn’t get a bus too every morning. Growing up in the Dublin Bus’s 70 terminus of Dunboyne being a blessing in this instance.  The problem with this situation is that it’s all well and good for people within commuting distance of Dublin, but those in other parts of the country are significantly less resourced in higher education options. Studying in Dublin or Cork or Galway will increasingly be seen as a luxury or status symbol, and there is something intrinsically wrong with this.

The situation becomes somewhat more austere as places in regional education centres become taken up by students who traditionally may have looked at going to university. This does have the benefit of increasing the quality of the classroom and student groups, but at the expense of students who previously may have found opportunities in higher education through local Institutes of Technology who will now find the competition for places to have increased significantly.  I think that perhaps we’ve already seen this process begin with the demand for a university to service Ireland’s south east. Educational snobs like to laugh at ITs as centres of basket weaving studies or advanced hairdressing (side rant – who gives a shite what another person wants to do with their life? Just support or be happy for them ye big Business and Law graduate), but their importance to the wider educational environoment of this country is vital. While they may indeed have nonsensical courses, their role in providing gateways to the technical workforce for many is vital.

Without something being done about this in good time, the situation will worsen. I think that we are already witnessing this situation in flux, although it will be hard to recognise the extent to which this is happening. The larger universities will always be able to fill places in in demand subjects, such as engineering or those geared towards services according to the recent news reports. Free spaces can be filled by international recruitment strategies, which benefits the universities in global ranking places and their bank accounts.

As a parent with young kids, the solution for me is quite simple, and this is to move closer to the urban centres with greater diversity of educational opportunities. Especially now, young professionals are more flexible as their backgrounds in IT or engineering allow for increased transiency. This kind of migration shouldn’t really perturb many of us who have already been a part of it, but it is the kind of migration which doesn’t pull at the heartstrings as much as the emigration which tore at us not many years ago. This in-country migration is no less disruptive, especially to rural communities. It is at this point where we see ourselves coming full circle once again to the issue of housing in our major urban areas. Young families will leave their homes and move to the cities because this is the best option for their families growth, even with the costs involved of paying exorbitant house prices or tackling overly competitive school enrollments. When you start to see less and less children on the streets of our town and villages as we journey further from the cities, are we not to blame because we never raised our hand and said that something is not right here.  This problem will extenuate itself increasingly in the coming years, if not decades to come, unless we some how try to curb it.

The housing crisis is not just about the cost of  accommodation, it is a wider social crisis that cannot be solved by a quick fix. It is clear to any person who tries to rent property or who opens a newspaper how much this issue is shellacking the country. I see it as an opportunity to reassess our understanding of what this accommodation crisis is causing. It goes beyond the problems which families are facing each day who are forced into emergency accommodation, or the prices which young people may be faced with paying for apartments in the cities. It is not my place to argue that any situation is more important that another, as what I see here is an extension of the increased housing neglect which is impacting countrywide. The right to education is one which we do not even debate in this country, and is one that has long hoped to be based on foundations of exceptional standards and equality. Are we in danger of reversing this?

In September, thousands of young people will wander off into this world in the hopes that they can be provided for. In the hope that everything will be ok. It’s a sobering thought that some may be forced to grow up quicker than others due to preventable situations. If we take a moment to consider what this means to be people, if we have stood in those same shoes ourselves as so many of us have, perhaps we can see more of the reality that Ireland’s 21st century crises continues to lay upon us.

 

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About this Referendum


This post is about the Marriage Referendum taking place in Ireland on May 22nd. If you’ve read enough about this already, or you could do with any more views being forced down your throat, I advise you to click away now. For more on the referendum I will diplomatically direct you to the Referendum Commision’s website here.

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Few things get Ireland’s political juices boiling than a good old referendum. The eternal battle persists; on one side we have revelation inspired change and on the other we have dogma sprouting refusal. Yes versus No. In the grand scheme of things, it is Ireland’s forte in the political world.

Ireland is fortunate to have it written into our constitution that to change the constitution you must decide by plebiscite. This makes any changes anything but a small matter. In some cases little to no effort is paid to the procedure, while in other cases it is all that can be discussed. This May’s referendum has garnered so much attention it has even managed to quell the voracious Irish Water conflict, where we now see the likes of People Before Profit taking the same side as the government. But enough about that.

There has been an awful lot said so far about the decision that the country will have to make on May 22nd. Can people of the same sex marry each other? That is the question we are being asked. A simple tick in the box marked Yes or No will be all most people will be asked to make. There is little else that can be done from this point on, regardless of how much shouting for or against the motion one can make, it all comes down to each registered voters decision, which is what is most worrying for both sides.

A lot about this referendum has bothered me. Not the actually amendment, no, I am just concerned with the dialogue surrounding the canvasing, and the suggestions by both Yes and No camps as to the integrity of people’s ability to make their own decisions.

Let me just run through a few thoughts on this whole rigmarole.

  • The referendum is on allowing same sex couples the right to marry. That’s the only stipulation on the voting cards. Whether there are consequences following marriages is something that will have to be dealt with separately (as I believe to be the case already)
  • Ireland’s new found call for equality is an interesting phenomenon. I wonder what the Travelling community, as well as immigrants, those in direct provision, and even single mothers (to name a few categories) feel about this.
  • People do genuinely feel that they are being forced to vote Yes, and that by not voting Yes they are a bad person. I don’t think that this is fair.
  • If Ireland votes Yes it will only change the Ireland that homosexual people live in, and will have no bearing on my life, at least at this moment in time.
  • Civil partnership is not marriage, and married people have stronger protections under the law of this country than those under civil partnership. And even then if civil partnership is conceivably the same as marriage then what’s the problem with not allowing people to marry?
  • There’s been a lot of talk about ‘money from America’. I for one would hope that in the future it might be illegal for outside bodies i.e. non Irish (what was that about equality earlier?) to fund election campaigns, and that all those involved in canvassing should present their receipts, including political parties, private bodies, and *ahem* charities.
  • I good friend told me over a few pints a while back that he didn’t see the point in voting as he had voted No on two previous referendums but the (previous) government turned around and held the referendum again just to get the result they wanted. To be honest, I can see exactly where he’s coming from on this and would imagine that he is not alone in this feeling.

  • More than ever, this is a vote for the future of Ireland’s people. We just can’t tell who in our family in the future might be gay, and if that is the case I would hope that if this person is fortunate enough to find someone they dearly love enough to spend the rest of their life with them, this country would be a safe and secure place to do so. This is my own feeling for my own family, and for everyone’s family.
  • Marriage or getting married has nothing to do with procreation. When you say your vows there is no stipulation that you will or want to have children. It is about two people who love each other so much that they would like to spend the rest of their lives together securely and safely with the full benefits which the law provides for such situations. Also, plenty will tell you that you don’t need to be married to have kids.
  • I don’t go to Mass – the Catholic variety – but I would not like to be a fly on the wall to hear the vitriol coming from the pulpit of a Sunday.
  • There are two stigmas being exploited in this referendum; gay people and their antics regarding sex, and god fearing Catholics and their beliefs about marriage and sex. Apparently to vote in Ireland you have to be an adult…
  • It’s easier to be convinced this will be a Yes victory, but let us not forget that there is a population of people far from the viral reaches of social media who may be less convinced of the necessity of this amendment.
  • While branded by as a battle for Love and Equality, it seems to me to be clash between New and Old Ireland.
  • If Ireland says No, then what?
  • There’s actually a second referendum on the same day which seems to be getting absolutely zero attention.

It struck me as I compiled this list, is Ireland the only country that will allow its people to make this decision, rather than their elected officials?

I would like to say more about the new culture of misinformation which has been stoked in this referendum campaign, but I will admit that I am not in a strong enough position to discuss them here. But it bothers me, to say the least.


Photo © Wally Cassidy 2015 wallycassidy.com

What I see most of all in this debate however is the chance for Ireland to finally stand up and shake itself free from the grip of the Catholic Church’s authority. For a long time there has been no grip, and this grip has been severly loosened further after various heinous revelations about the way people in their responsibility where treated. This vote, if it is a Yes, and I do hope that it is because it is the right thing to do, will finally in a semi-official kind of way show that this country can make its own decisions and that we are ready to take ownership of our future for those of us who follow.

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Be sure to check out the #MarRef hashtag on the twitter for a wide range of opinions, experiences, and hatred – although good luck finding someone tweeting for a No vote…