The days of farmers’ children getting the college grant could be over

Farmers’ children’s access to a college grant could be in jeopardy, if with proposals under the new Cassells Report on the future funding of higher education are brought in.

The report puts forward a number of proposals to fund the future of higher education, including one that looks at not just the income of parents, whose children are looking for maintenance grants, but also their assets.

According to the report, a new funding model must involve a more holistic treatment of all learners – full time, part time, undergraduate and postgraduate.

It states that increases in funding for higher education institutions must be matched by improvements in the student support system.

“This should include an increase in the value of payments, particularly for the lowest income groups, the introduction of a capital assets test, and an extension of supports to part-time and postgraduate students.”

The reference to a capital assets test could hit farmers in the pocket, as previously assets were exempt from the means-tested college grant.

The report goes on to say that under one possible funding option, higher education would not be free at the point of entry.

“The main reservations would be on grounds of fairness: the difficulties people face in paying the €3,000 fee; the fairness of the fee waiver system based on parental income at the point of enrolment, under which some with significant assets receive support; and the potential barrier of post-graduate fees for many students.”

However, it also points to what it says are inadequacies in the current means testing arrangements, which only consider income and take no account of capital, assets or accumulated wealth.

“The current model of student support maintenance grants should continue and should be enhanced to better reflect the real costs of participation, and better targeted by taking account of capital assets and accumulated wealth.”

IFA Farm Business Chairman Martin Stapleton said the IFA remains opposed to any attempt to include productive assets, such as farmland, in the means assessment for third level grants.

He said  that productive assets are required by farm and other small businesses to generate income, and are not a measure of additional ability to pay.

“To develop a means test that would combine the asset value and farm income to deliver a measure of ‘ability-to-pay’ would simply be double counting, and totally unacceptable.”

Research has shown that farmers’ children are three times more likely to go to college than the average Leaving Certificate student.

It shows that the estimated participation rates of farmers’ children higher than that of even the children of professionals such as lawyers.

A report by the Higher Education Authority two years ago shows that Leitrim, Galway and Mayo were found to have the highest progression rates, at 60%. Laois and Donegal have the lowest at 41%.