Town versus gown is an age-old struggle. Cities steeped in academic excellence revel in the reputation their universities bring, but people often push back when those from the outside encroach on local life.
Nowhere is this battle between townsfolk and students more apparent than in the accommodation sector.
Student housing has been a bone of contention in Galway and university cities across Ireland for decades.
Locals want the reverence and tourism that universities bring, but they don’t want the streets lined with students. Nor do they want students clogging up the rental sector. It’s a Catch-22 situation that often results in sky-high rental rates and less than desirable living conditions.
Students Are Paying a Hefty Price for their Education
A 2015 article in the Independent revealed that a housing shortage in Galway City meant students were sleeping on sofas. Fast-forward to 2020 and little has changed. As well as students in Galway sofa-surfing, a report by the Journal found that some students from University College Dublin are sleeping in cars because they can’t find a suitable place to live.
But why can’t the students just live on campus? Herein lies the issue. National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) has 17,000 full-time students. There’s not enough room on campus to house them all. However, even if it could, the cost is too much for most students to afford.
In addition to registration fees for university topping €3,000, campus accommodation costs have skyrocketed in recent years. A shared room at NUIG costs between €3,750 and €6,942 a year.
Go on rent.ie and you can find rooms to rent in a private house for under €200 a month. Yes, campus accommodation might cover bills and, in some cases, food. However, it’s little wonder that students are eager to get out on the open rental market as soon as possible.
Of course, as we know, that puts pressure on local housing which, in turn, creates tension between the town and gown. There is no easy answer. However, one solution could be building affordable campus accommodation using modern construction methods.
Prefab Technology Could Drive Down Costs
Instead of building large units from scratch, NUIG and other universities could use prefabricated products. Take, for example, Hydrodiseño. This Spanish company uses cutting-edge technology to create, among other things, student accommodation bathroom pods. The pods are premade in a factory and come in self-contained, ready-to-install units.
The modular construction not only ensures consistency in quality and spec, but dimensions. Thus, they can be easily slotted into place without the need for dozens of people from different trades.
Indeed, with the pipework, tiling, units, and flooring all in place, they can be dropped in with relative ease. This cuts down on time and labour costs, thus creating the opportunity for affordable housing.
The same strategy can be used for other parts of a construction project. In fact, there are companies out there that can build an entire shell and have it dropped onto a building plot.
Again, this cuts down on time, costs and hassle. The end result would be a more streamlined construction process and affordable housing for students. Indeed, if a project costs less to complete, the university could pass the savings on to students.
Would it be a massive saving? Possibly not. However, if it can drive down the average cost of campus accommodation by 10%, that’s a win.
The student housing crisis is one that will continue as long as more people attend university. However, if academic institutions can take advantage of modern construction methods, it could save everyone money and, in some small way, help the student housing crisis.