A survey published by Sinn Féin spokesperson on Further and Higher Education, Rose Conway-Walsh TD, has found that despite students reporting that on average their courses are 80% online, more than 58% of them have paid more than €1000 upfront for accommodation.

The ‘Telling the Real Story – Student Accommodation Survey’ was launched on Thursday the 29th of October and surveyed 329 third level students from around the country. It found that despite the move to predominantly online learning this year, a huge amount of students are paying for accommodation they don’t need to use.

Due to students being in the unique position of having to look for accommodation months in advance, many students paid upfront and secured accommodation based on assurances they received from their third-level institutions during the summer that they would have some on-campus teaching this year. However, a lot of institutions only revealed just before semester began that most, or in a lot of cases, all of their teaching would be online. The survey found that many students felt as though they were misled into paying for accommodation.

Due to the fact many students rent privately, once they had signed a lease, they were unable to get a refund for their accommodation and were stuck living in and paying for a place they did not need.

“I regret paying for accommodation,” one student wrote in the survey. “I signed a lease for 8 months, so I can’t get out of it. I think it was deliberate planning by the government and third level institutions not to inform students until the Friday evening before starting college about going online.”

This seems to be a common issue within the respondents of the survey. “The university told us to get accommodation,” said another student. “Then on the first week told us that we are mostly online, and all lectures will be recorded. I have paid rent since July to secure a room and now cannot get out of my lease.”

Another respondent wrote: “Two days after I moved in we were told it would be completely online for two weeks, and then we were informed that it would be online for the rest of the semester. The whole situation has been so stressful and upsetting.”

TD Conway-Walsh expressed at the launch from Leinster House that the information that was gathered was “deeply concerning”.

“The survey clearly demonstrates the unique position of students in the rental market as they are often asked to pay rent months in advance and that the majority of these rentals are in the off-campus private market,” said TD Conway-Walsh. “This is why we are calling for a specific and targeted response from the government.

“Students and their families cannot be left carrying the can again to fund the income of landlords and accommodation providers by paying for accommodation they are now prohibited from using.”

No one has had it easy during this pandemic, and it’s probably fair to say that everyone has suffered differently, some greater than others. However, it’s important that just because they’re generally considered healthier, young people and the sacrifices they’ve made should not be overlooked, which is why surveys such as these are so important.

The transition to university is already stressful for so many even during “precedented times”, and added stressors related to housing and money will likely have lasting effects on students’ lives, both mentally and economically.

Read the full survey here.