The Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has defended his Departments response to demand that has arisen for additional college places in recent years.

In response to a parliamentary question from Deputy Patrick O’Donovan he said: “My Department has responded positively to the demand that has arisen for additional college places in recent years sanctioning a number of exceptional appointments in the agricultural colleges.

The Minister outlined that Teagasc was granted sanction in 2011 to recruit 6 contract teachers to cope with staff shortages and increased demand for college places. At the same time, Teagasc introduced a number of complementary initiatives to maximise student participation including increased student-teacher ratios, redeployment of advisory staff to the agricultural colleges and subcontracting the delivery of specific education modules across a number of colleges and local centres. A further 6 teaching posts were approved in 2012 to cover short term absences in the colleges.

He added that more recently, the Department, in consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, approved the recruitment of 11 new staff in Teagasc in respect of posts deemed mission critical by the organisation, which included 3 posts in the education function. In addition to recruitment posts, Teagasc has also been sanctioned to fill critical gaps in the education function by way of internal promotions.

Minister Coveney commented: “The increased interest in formal training reflects the very positive view of the agricultural sector as it has evolved in recent years. Food Harvest 2020 and the removal of milk quotas provide additional momentum to the need for a highly educated and motivated workforce.”