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Farming bodies against asset testing for third-level grants

Interest groups say the move could result in children from low-income families being refused maintenance assistance.

Image: Marion Doss via Creative Commons/Flickr

PROPOSALS TO INCLUDE productive assets in the assessment of third-level maintenance grants have been roundly opposed by farming and youth groups today.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) said that any move to include productive assets, such as farmland, in assessments would show “a complete bias against farmers and other self-employed”.

IFA President, John Bryan said the farming community would not accept changes to assessment procedure that would result in children from low-income families being refused grants: “The Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, is in no doubt about IFA’s position on this issue. At a meeting with the Minister earlier this year, we made it clear that productive assets, such as farmland, are required by self-employed businesses to generate income and are not a measure of additional ability to pay. This means that farmland and other productive assets cannot form any part of a fair means assessment,” he said.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association also came out in opposition to such proposals – and called on all TDs to do the same.  ICSA president, Gabriel Gimartin, welcomed the fact that a number of deputies voiced their opposition to such changes, noting that the ICSA has been “actively lobbying against any such move since the possibility was first mooted.”

Gilmartin said: “The really critical issue is that most farms actually generate very low levels of income.  Perhaps that explains why such farm families are very keen to get their children to go to third level in the expectation that the farm cannot provide a decent living.  The evidence is clear that almost all cattle and sheep farms do not support an income anywhere near the cut-off for third level grants.”

Meanwhile, Macra na Feirme National President, Alan Jagoe, also rejected the proposals to include assets in assessment – saying that any such move would be “incredibly short-sighted”.

“The fact is that the average full-time farmer will not be in a position to send their child to college without the assistance of an educational grant,” Jagoe said.

“Irish farming operates on a rather unique business model that centres around the family farmland is not readily comparable to other business sectors that commonly use other structures such as companies. Farmers could be viewed as a soft target for introducing means testing of assets. Many farm families while asset rich are income poor… 2009 proved to be a prime example with average incomes well below the average industrial wage.”

Read: Students fear ‘two-tiered’ college system as Quinn endorses loan scheme>

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