MINISTER for Higher Education Simon Harris has put in place what is being seen as the first step towards on-site accommodation at Atlantic Technological University (ATU).
Minister Harris announced this week a €1 million funding package to enable colleges to start preparing business cases for, among other things, student housing.
Letterkenny ATU owns land opposite its main campus and preliminary plans have been drawn up for apartments, underground car parking, a shop and a specialist centre for further education students.
Given the university’s fledgling status, on-site accommodation will not be developed in the immediate future and it is as yet unclear how much Letterkenny will get from Simon Harris’s €1 million.
But it is being seen as a start and at a time when student accommodation is in very short supply.
Head of College at ATU Donegal, Paul Hannigan, said that with the demand for housing so high, more and more students are opting to live at home and make the longer commute.
If apartments were available today there would be tenants for them, Mr Hannigan said. But the plans will not progress until the necessary financial mechanisms are all in place. And that is unlikely to be any time soon.
“If the accommodation was there, there would be demand for it,” he said.
“I think it is important the government realises the need for it and takes it seriously in terms of allowing us to move forward in making a case for it.
“We have a car park that we needed but we have built it in such a way that if we wanted to expand we have portions of land set aside around the car park. However we also have the possibility of building over the car park.
“The accommodation will probably be to the rear of the site but it is a long way off. We are really in a situation where we can’t proceed with it because it is so expensive.
“We have a long way to go because it is hugely expensive to deliver these plans. We can’t do it unless there is a borrowing framework in place for the technological university so we can actually borrow funds and also get funding from the government to support it.”
Éanna McDermott is communications officer at ATU Donegal.
He added, “As it stands the college owns no accommodation whatsoever so we completely rely on the private market and we want to build our own.
“Becoming a technological university is supposed to give us access to building accommodation but that has not happened yet as there have been difficulties in drawing down the funds.”