A newly proposed income-contingent loan scheme for Irish third level students will have a “disproportionally” negative impact on those with rural and agricultural backgrounds, according to the Union of Students in Ireland (USI).
The proposed loan scheme was recommended earlier this month as part of government-commissioned report which examined the funding of Irish third level education amid the “vicious circle” of reduced funding for colleges and universities, combined with rising student numbers and less academic staff being employed.
 
Under the proposed system, students could face loan repayments in the region of €25 a week over a 15-year period, according to the Irish Times.
 
The Union of Students in Ireland met with the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) last Friday to discuss the much talked about proposal, and have claimed that it will deter those with a rural or agricultural background from entering higher level education.
 
“Any implementation of the new proposed loan scheme for students would disproportionately affect those from rural and agricultural backgrounds, deter them from applying to college, and widen the gap between urban and rural opportunities," said USI President Kevin Donoghue.
 
"People from rural backgrounds are more likely to be on third level grants and, therefore, are more likely to be affected by these new proposals,” he added.
 
Mr. Donoghue pointed to the financial disadvantage that he believes students living in rural areas are already subject to, as they incur added accommodation and transport costs.
 
“Introducing things like asset testing for grants and replacing grant payments with loans will disproportionately affect farmers and those in rural backgrounds. 
 
"Students from rural and agricultural backgrounds already face higher costs than those who are from urban areas, especially with expenses like accommodation and transportation.”
 
IFA Farm Business Chairman Tom Doyle said that, “the Irish government needs to ensure equality of access to third level education for low income farm families,” amid a rising demand for agricultural and agri -food courses in Ireland.
 
“With a 45% increase in the value of food and drink exports achieved since 2009, Ireland’s agri-food sector has been a driving force of export growth and national economic recovery," he explained.
 
"The sectors performance and corresponding increased employment opportunities have resulted in a huge surge in enrollment numbers for agricultural and agri-food courses.
 
"The Irish government needs to ensure equality of access to third level education for low income farm families to fully deliver on the potential and growth opportunities in the sector,” he stated.
 
Mr.Doyle concluded that, “The farming community would not tolerate any changes which would result in children from low income farm families being excluded from third level grants.”