Fairness and college grants?
Sir, – Seán Flynn’s article (“College grant system favours farmers and self-employed”, August 14th), which implies that farmers and self-employed get a disproportionate amount of college grants for their children is certainly incendiary, but hardly enlightening.
If, as the article points out, 40 per cent of farmers are eligible for third level grants, then all that means is that 40 per cent of farmers have an income of less than €41,000 (the cut-off income point for full grant). The corollary is that just 17 per cent of lower professional and 10 per cent of higher professional farmers seem to earn less than this level.
Information on farm incomes is readily found in the Teagasc National Farm Survey. This shows that a large disparity exists between the highest earning farmers and the majority of farmers, who have very low incomes. Even in a good year, such as 2011, the majority of farms generate an income far below the cut- off rate for grant aid. The average farm income was estimated by Teagasc at €24,461 – and this was described as an “unprecedented level”. It is likely to be much lower for 2012.
Furthermore, at least 85 per cent of farms are not generating enough income to totally disqualify them from some grant eligibility.
The anecdote about the farmer with 122 acres qualifying for a grant is simply a reflection of the reality of the income potential of cattle and sheep farms. Teagasc figures show that in 2011, the 50-125 acre cattle or sheep farm generated €15,000-€20,000 and the 125-250 acre cattle or sheep farm made €24,000-€26,000 – all of which are well below the grant aid level.
Disturbingly, while the article highlighted that 40 per cent of farmers’ children qualified for a grant, compared with 10 per cent of higher professionals’ children, it did not mention that the comparable figures for manual skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers were 46 per cent, 43 per cent and 56 per cent.
It is also necessary to note that many households have two incomes and this is the reason that they do not qualify. In the case of farmers, the Teagasc Survey for 2011 demonstrates that on 52 per cent of farms, neither the farmer nor the spouse has an off-farm income. Single income households such as these are always likely to be well below the grant cut-off rate and there is no justification for trying to deprive such families of third-level education opportunities for their children. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I refer to your Editorial (August 11th) and other recent coverage of the proposed inclusion of certain assets in a reformed third- level grant assessment system.
The concern for farmers is that any new grant assessment, which includes productive assets, such as farmland, would prevent children from low income farm families from gaining access to third-level education. This would be a totally unfair outcome of the current review. For farmers, land is required to generate income and the land value does not reflect their ability to pay.
It is disappointing that the present debate has, once again, given rise to misinformation about farmers’ access to grants. Like everyone else, farm household incomes are assessed through the Revenue’s income taxation system.
Contrary to some reports, the current assessment does not allow farmers to use large capital outlays, such as the purchase of machinery, to “manipulate” their income in order to qualify for a grant.
The most recent figures from the HEA show that 40 per cent of new college entrants from farm households were in receipt of maintenance grant support in 2010. This compares with 33 per cent of all new entrants, and simply reflects that farming is a low income occupation, with average income from farming in 2010 of €18,000. – Yours, etc,