Fairness and college grants
Sir, – The facts relating to a capital assets test are a matter of public record and as such, are very easily identifiable. There is no question of over-representation of farmers’ children in third level. That is a fact. Indeed, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has described that belief as “an urban myth”.
There is no question of farmers’ children being over-represented in that section of students receiving third level maintenance grants. That is a fact. Maintenance grants are awarded on the basis of income. That is a fact. Farmers’ children who are awarded such grants will have produced factual evidence that the family’s income qualifies them for consideration. The relevant awarding body will then make a decision based on the facts.
The reason farmers’ children are awarded maintenance grants in a system where eligibility is measured by income is quite simply that their incomes are below the threshold and meet the requirements for consideration for grant assistance.
Farm incomes are matter of statistical record and therefore can be safely considered fact. In 2011, the average family farm income was €24,461. That represented a 30 per cent increase on 2010 and Teagasc is already estimating that 2012 family farm income will drop by 30 per cent, decreasing to around €17,100. At that level, family farm income will be less than half the average industrial wage.
Those are facts. They are easily checked and verified. In those circumstances, does it not behove Thomas Ryan (August 15th), to at least nod in their direction before he embarks upon a very off-putting and rather spittle-flecked attack on farm organisations, like my own, who calmly insist that the facts about farmers’ children and third level grants must form the basis for any discussion on possible changes to grant eligibility? Is that unreasonable of us? Have the rules about public debate changed that suddenly? If they have then we are all in even more trouble than previously thought.
I do not appreciate Mr Ryan’s puerile sarcasm about “poor rural shawlies cowering in fear” or his sneer about “thatched hovels”. Very many of our people did indeed live in what Mr Ryan would categorise as thatched hovels. But they did their best and it is still (I hope) a little below the belt to use the dismissive language of a early Victorian land agent.
Neither do farmers “brag” about our sector and its prospects. Why would we brag about our incomes when they are still about €18,000 per annum less than the average industrial wage? We might have plans and ambitions for our sector and Irish farming and agri-food, but that’s a different matter, surely?
Mr Ryan calls for our hypocrisy and opportunism to be “faced down”. May I suggest that he take a couple of deep breaths and look at this matter again – this time in the context of the facts and without the Ballymagash caricatures that seem to have formed the basis for his contribution. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – It is unsurprising that 40 per cent of farmers get a college grant for their children. The figures from the Teagasc National Farm Survey found the average income figure for the farming sector was €21,000 last year. This is significantly less than the 2011 average industrial wage of €35,486.88, according to the CSO. Much of the off-farm work has dried up in recent years, as has income through environmental farm schemes AEOS and REPS, both of which are closed.
Farming also has all the added problems such as being reliant on the weather for income and pay being unrelated to number of hours worked. Many farms may be worth €200,000 or more, but without this asset farmers would be unable to generate an income for themselves or their families.
To think that a farmer on an annual income of €21,000 can afford a college fee of €2,250 is pure fantasy. – Yours, etc,