Fianna Fáil Seanad Spokesperson on Agriculture Brian Ó Domhnaill has called on the Government to scrap plans to include certain capital assets in the means testing for third level grants from next year.
Questioning the Minister of State Seán Sherlock in the Seanad this week Senator Ó Domhnaill said the changes are highly discriminatory against farming families and the self employed.
“The Government has set up a Capital Asset Test Implementation Group. This has been set up with the absolute intention of changing the criteria for student grants in a way that will certainly discriminate against the children of farm families,” said Senator Ó Domhnaill.
“Under the current grant application system, all farm income is assessed. If the Government goes ahead and also assess the value of the farmland as an income source on its own, this would be totally unfair and would amount to double assessment on the same land.
“The myth that all farm families avail of Third Level Grants could not be further from the truth. A Higher Education Authority (HEA) survey completed on 72% of First year students in the 2009.2010 Academic Year showed that only 8.9% of new students were from farming backgrounds. Furthermore only 39.7% of the children from farmers were in receipt of Higher Education Grants.”
Senator Ó Domhnaill appealed to Minister Sherlock to reconsider this discriminatory policy, but the Minister indicated that will go ahead as planned in 2013.
Minister Sherlock said: “Given the increasing cost of providing student maintenance grants, the potential for this proposal to deliver cost savings on the student grant budget is also a critical consideration at this time.
“While the introduction of a capital assets test for student grants may have traditionally been perceived as likely to impact particularly on the farming community, this is not the object of the proposal… The group has been charged with bringing forward detailed implementation proposals on new means testing arrangements for student grants, to include the value of assets, for new applicants from the 2013/14 Academic Year.”
Speaking afterwards Senator Ó Domhnaill said, “I am very disappointed at the Government’s refusal to reconsider this targeted cut. Once again rural and farming communities have been singled out by the Education Minister Ruairí Quinn in an unfair and discriminatory manner.”