Staff levels at colleges now at a 'critical point'
Teagasc third level agricultural colleges must be allowed to replace staff who are on maternity leave, retiring or absent due to long-term illness, Macra na Feirme has insisted.
Macra na Feirme president Michael Gowing said the current embargo by the Department of Finance preventing Teagasc from employing required staff, to replace existing staff in agricultural colleges, would impact on the quality and delivery of agricultural education.
"The departments of Agriculture and Finance need to take action as colleges are at maximum student capacity but staffing levels are at a critical point in a number of the colleges, especially the private colleges," Mr Gowing said.
He added that agricultural colleges had to be allowed to replace staff in the same way that other third level educational institutions were allowed. "Teagasc need approval for the recruitment of replacement staff similar to the process that is allowed in other third level educational institutions," Mr Gowing said.
The Macra president said ignoring this problem was not an option as the delivery of quality vocational agricultural education was fundamental to the future development of the agricultural sector.
Private college principals have come under severe pressure this year to take increased numbers of students as demand for agricultural courses has grown. The volume of applications to many colleges is reported to have hit levels not seen since the 1980s.
Up to 250 applicants have been consigned to waiting lists as competition for college places has intensified. To compound the difficulties, staffing shortages have become a serious concern.
The problem is a particular concern for the private colleges. Mountbellew College in Galway has lost one-third of its teaching staff due to medical leave.