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Vacant Purpose-Built Student Accommodation should be used to ease stress on vulnerable students who are not in appropriate accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Union of Students in Ireland said today.

The USI says the closure of campuses and the stay-home guidelines have been extremely difficult on students who live in cramped or overcrowded situations and do not have the space to study.

USI Equality and Citizenship Vice-President Megan Reilly welcomed news that the Department of Justice and Equality has written to university presidents urging them to provide alternative accommodation for students in Direct Provision.

Megan said: “Students in Direct Provision are in very tough circumstances during these times. They do not have the space or privacy in which to study and get their college work done. They are most likely sharing rooms with the rest of their family or others. There are empty rooms now in a lot of student accommodation buildings and they should be used to look after people who need this support.

“The vacant rooms could also be used to house other vulnerable students such as those working on the frontline during the pandemic including student nurses, pharmacists and those working in supermarkets and other essential jobs. A lot of students have also been told to leave digs and have nowhere else to go.”

The USI is also calling for this accommodation to be provided at a highly subsidised rate or free of charge depending on the circumstances of the students involved.

Megan explained: “A lot of the students that need this wouldn’t be in a position to pay the usual rents or some, such as those in Direct Provision, wouldn’t be able to pay at all. But if the need is there and these rooms are empty, that shouldn’t be an issue.

“We are also aware that this would need to be done in a safe manner, as is extremely important at the moment. We wouldn’t want the health of existing residents to be compromised and precautions would be needed.”

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