Farmers face up to thorny issue of third-level grants
Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn will bring the findings of an interdepartmental working group to Cabinet
Minister for Education under fire over plan to include value of capital assets in means-testing procedure
Re-examining the third-level grants scheme and weeding out loopholes for high earners has been a priority for Minister for Education and Skills Ruairí Quinn since beginning his most recent tenure in the department.
For some time now, the suggestion that children of business owners with assets of more than €750,000 would not qualify for third-level education maintenance grants has been on the table.
The asset figure is large enough not to warrant much opposition from most circles. However, it also applies to farm value and, more specifically, a calculation – the origins of which are disputed – that a farm worth €750,000 is likely to generate an annual income of just over €41,000.
The Department of Education says this figure came from Teagasc, but director Prof Gerry Boyle described this calculation as “meaningless” and denies his organisation had any part to play in providing it.
While not commenting either way on the specifics of the calculation, a spokesperson from the Department of Education did tell The Irish Times that the Cabinet is planning to discuss the issue of widening the means testing arrangements for student grants to include the “value of capital assets” shortly, and that the issue would be decided collectively.
“We cannot comment on the details of this proposal before it goes to Government,” the spokesperson said. “However, it is important to note that a decision to include the value of capital assets in the means testing for student grants was included in the details of Budget 2012.
“The memo which Quinn is bringing to Cabinet follows on from a report from an interdepartmental working group set up to examine the issue.
“Fundamentally, this is about ensuring that at a time of reduced resources, the Government targets valuable schemes such as the student grant system at those who need them most. Equally, those who can afford to pay to go to third level should do so.
“The broadening of means-testing for grants is not aimed at a particular section of the community but rather at ensuring that all students are treated equally in the assessment of their or their familys means.”
Despite this, there is plenty of opposition and a sense that farmers are being unfairly treated. IFA deputy president Eddie Downey says “€750,000 sounds like a lot of land, but depending on the part of the country you are in, it could be no more than 40 acres.
“The average value of farmland in Ireland is €10,000 per acre. There are huge discrepancies in this proposal. Means testing would need to be based on fairer figures. The system in place already discriminates against farm families. It should be based on taxable income and nothing else.