Minister reassures farmers that college grant changes will be ‘fair’

Farmers are relieved that any changes to the means test for college grants will be fair, equitable, and open to appeal.

In a meeting with ICMSA executives, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said any changes to Higher Education Authority (HEA) grants will not be biased towards any sector.

The dairy farmer group welcomed this position, which it interprets as meaning that farmland and machinery will be viewed as “tools of the trade” rather than cash-realisable assets.

ICMSA taxation committee chairman Lorcan McCabe said farmers were relieved. He said there has been considerable concern that farm assets would be taken into account in assessing farmers’ children’s eligibility for grants under a proposed new means test that would include capital assets.

Mr McCabe said: “The minister is saying that productive farm assets such as farmland that is being farmed and farm machinery will not be assessed. He accepts that these assets are not income.

“Farmers don’t sell land. Land is only sold once every 500 years, and farm size has only gone up by one hectare in the last year, despite the drive for expansion. Any inclusion of farm assets would result in a blatant and specific bias against farm families, so we’re happy that the new assessment system is to be based on fairness, equity, and transparency.”

HEA figures show 8.9% of new students in 2010 were from a farming background. Among farmers, 39.7% of children attending college are in receipt of a grant — about 2% less than the general populace. That figure climbs to 63.6% for the offspring of agricultural workers, for instance, whose incomes are far lower.

Mr Quinn told the ICMSA delegation he intends to introduce an individual appeals mechanism for all applicants. The Capital Asset Implementation Group is due to report to Mr Quinn by the end of June.

Mr McCabe said: “We had a very favourable meeting with the minister. The review will be finished by the end of June, and hopefully we will get another look at it then before it becomes law.”

Mr Quinn said, as with income assessments, assessments including capital assets would also be subject to appeal to the independent Student Grants Appeals Board. No decision has been taken on the treatment of farm or other business assets — this is one of a range of matters under consideration.


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