Student grant figures highlight low farming incomes, say IFA
Average farmer’s income is €24,000, making qualification for SUSI grant ‘inevitable’
Tom Doyle, chairman of the association’s farm business committee, said “it makes perfect sense” that a high proportion of farming families would qualify for the grant. Photograph: Sara Freund
Figures showing students from rural counties are more likely to get a third-level grant than those in Dublin serve to highlight the low level of income on farms, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said.
Tom Doyle, chairman of the association’s farm business committee, said “it makes perfect sense” that a high proportion of farming families would qualify for the grant because the average farming income was close to €24,000.
“On a lot of farms where there is no outside income. Their income is at such a low level it is inevitable that they would qualify, and should qualify.
“There is the additional factor that practically all farm children will be required to pay for expensive accommodation, as most rural children would be.”
Mr Doyle was responding to figures published in The Irish Times Tuesday on the allocation of grants by Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI).
Students in Longford had the highest success rate, with 71.5 per cent of CAO applicants getting a means-tested grant last year. This compared to just 45.6 per cent of applicants in Dublin.
To qualify for the minimum level of funding of €1,375, or 50 per cent of the annual student contribution, a family of less than four children must have an income below €52,240.
“The average farm income is less than half of that so it’s not surprising that farmers would fall into the category of qualifying if their income is well below the threshold, as a lot of farmers are,” Mr Doyle told Newstalk.
“And I think it’s important to point out that if there is a second income on a farm that those incomes are combined.”
He noted this was the case in his own situation and a result his children did not qualify for the grant.
“The reality is the system is showing up the farm incomes are very low and that is the point we have been making for years.
“There has also been an amount of misinformation from time to time about farmers manipulating their income by buying assets and machinery and things like that, and that is completely false because such expenditure is not included in the calculation of eligibility.”
The IFA and other farming groups had opposed attempts by former minister for education Ruairí Quinn to include assets, including farms and property, in the calculation of eligibility for SUSI grants.
The plan was dropped before reaching cabinet amid strong opposition from Fine Gael.
While there had been a lot of commentary on these tensions in the coalition, Mr Doyle pointed out that he met Mr Quinn and “he certainly understood our concerns at the time that if you start creating an assumed income on top of the actual income then you are double counting”.
He said it was “not a realistic or sensible argument” to say people had to sell their farms to send their children to college.
Data from the Higher Education Authority last year showed Donegal and Laois are the counties with the lowest level of participation in higher education with only 41 per cent of young people going to third-level.
This compares to 60 per cent in Mayo, Galway and Leitrim. In Dublin, the participation rate was 47 per cent but there were major variations across postal codes.
In Dublin 6, a massive 99 per cent of school leavers went to third-level; this compared to just 16 per cent in Dublin 10.