Agricultural students ‘deserve the same support’ and access to financial schemes – Carthy

The exclusion of agricultural students from financial support schemes “must be reversed”, according to Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy.

He has called on the Minister for Agriculture to take “urgent steps” to ensure that agricultural students in Ireland can have access to the state support schemes provided to other students, including those arising from Covid-19.

The party spokesperson on agriculture has raised this issue as “weeks have passed” since Minister Charlie McConalogue indicated to him that he was considering this matter.

Last month, the minister said he is “acutely conscious of the importance of supporting students during this very difficult and unprecedented period for our country”.

The Teagasc Authority approved the introduction of means testing of maintenance grants for those attending further level courses at Teagasc and private agricultural colleges in 2012.

Teagasc student maintenance grants are paid through Teagasc and the grant scheme is managed by Teagasc. Applicants cannot apply to Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI) to be means tested for a Teagasc Student Maintenance Grant.

‘The department is considering how best to support third-level students’

“It would appear that, as Teagasc falls under the remit of the Department of Agriculture, [it is] not eligible for inclusion in funding from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science generally or in the context of specific Covid-19 grants made available by that department through the HEA [Higher Education Authority] and SOLAS to higher and further education providers under their remit,” the minister said last month.

That department is, at present, considering how best to support [third]-level students with the €50 million fund announced in Budget 2021.

“However, my department is currently making the case for the inclusion of Teagasc in the €50 million fund announced by the Department of Further and Higher Education to provide financial assistance to third-level students in recognition of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on this group, and consequent increases in online learning.”

Speaking this week, deputy Carthy said that the exclusion of agricultural students from these vital supports is “unacceptable and must be reversed”.

“Students at the Teagasc colleges face the same challenges as all other students face, they deserve the same level of support,” the deputy said.

Weeks have passed since Minister McConalogue indicated to me that he was considering this matter, but we have heard nothing since.

“I will not be letting this matter rest – the minister needs to act now to ensure that students in our agricultural colleges have access to both the Student [Assistance] Fund on a permanent basis, and the Covid payment scheme.”