Thursday, 11 February 2021

Questions (225)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

225. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science if he or his Department has had discussions with University of Limerick on its policy of not offering refunds to students who cannot use their on-campus accommodation due to Covid-19; if his attention has been drawn to the hardship this is causing students, many of whom have also lost the part-time work they engaged in, and many of whose parents have also seen a decrease in income due to Covid 19; if he or his Department has had these discussions, the result of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7732/21]

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Written answers (Question to Further and Higher Education)

I am conscious of the challenges faced by students regarding student accommodation this year due to both financial pressures, and the blended learning format of the 2020/21 academic year.

The Deputy will be aware that the university sector has been actively engaging with these issues. As a result of the decision to minimise on-site teaching, all universities have confirmed that students who opted to leave their university-owned student accommodation as a result reduced on-campus activity will be offered refunds or rental credits. The processing of these refunds is a matter for the universities themselves, and any student who wishes to receive a refund for their on-campus accommodation should engage directly with their university’s accommodation office.

In relation the University of Limerick specifically I have been informed that students were given until 31st October to cancel their accommodation and receive a full refund. Students who chose to leave their accommodation after 31st October due to the remote format of the academic year have been offered a rental fee credit. I will continue to liaise with the sector through the Irish Universities Association to encourage the availability of fair solutions to students in university-owned student accommodation.

However this applies only to accommodation owned by the universities themselves. In the case of privately owned student accommodation, I am urging providers to be flexible in finding solutions given the circumstances that students find themselves. There are, however, no powers available to me under the current legal framework to direct any particular course of action. Refund or cancellation policies in student accommodation should be set out in the license agreement signed at the beginning of the academic year. In the first instance students should engage with their accommodation provider to see if an arrangement can be reached. If this is not possible, students have access to the Dispute Resolution Services of the Residential Tenancies Board.

I have asked my officials to continue to engage with the sector and to keep me updated on relevant developments in this important area.