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Fury as thousands of farmers' children to lose college grants

THOUSANDS of farmers' children and low earners will lose out on higher education grants from next year.

The move, which is set to cause uproar among farmers suffering falling incomes, follows the Government's decision to make key changes to the eligibility criteria for means-tested grants from 2010.

The most controversial is the removal of stock relief for farmers -- a move condemned as 'discriminatory' last night by the Irish Farmers' Association.

Farmers' children are disproportionately represented in higher education. One in eight students enrolling in college every year and one in every 10 grant holders comes from a farming background. There have even been allegations that some farmers were timing the purchase of stock to ensure their children got the maximum grant possible.

Grants are awarded on the basis of family income in the year before college entry. Under the existing arrangements -- which will continue for another year -- farmers are able to deduct 25pc of the increase in their stock value when calculating the 'reckonable income' for college grant purposes.

An IFA spokesperson said the current regulations for education grants already seriously discriminated against farm families as capital allowances for buildings and wages for family members are not allowed as an expense in calculating income.

"The latest decision by the Education Minister to disregard stock relief is a further discriminatory move against farm families. However, the harsh reality is that farmers' income is, on average, less than half the income limit set by the minister," he told the Irish Independent.

Union of Students in Ireland president Peter Mannion said the decision was "wholly reckless", adding: "This will pose a direct threat to students from agricultural families who wish to access third-level education."

He also attacked the decision to include some social welfare allowances as reckonable income for the first time.

These include the Back to Education Allowance. As a result, Mr Mannion said students from lower-income families may not qualify for a maintenance grant.

"In addition, some mature students who have decided to work or travel abroad for over two years before returning to college will not be eligible," he added.


"This does not breed confidence in [the minister's] previous promise to 'family proof' the reintroduction of third level fees and I call on his Cabinet colleagues and Fianna Fail backbenchers to consider the hardship these cuts will have on their constituents."

The changes were announced in a statement from the Department of Education and Science. This confirmed yesterday's Irish Independent reporting of a rise in income limits for grants.

To qualify for the full standard rate maintenance grant and payment of the student services charge, where there are fewer than four dependent children, the income limit has been increased from €39,760 to €41,110.

At present, 56,000 students out of a total of 140,000 get full or partial support, at a cost to the taxpayer of €297m this year.

An Bord Snip Nua called for savings of €70m in the scheme, and recommended an asset test be introduced. It also recommended that students should get a higher education grant or a Back to Education Allowance, but not both.

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