Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture Matt Carthy TD has welcomed a commitment from the Minister for Agriculture to provide funds to support disadvantaged agricultural students who have been excluded from the Student Hardship Fund and the €50 million Covid-19 Support Scheme.
Students at Teagasc Agricultural Colleges, which fall under the remit of the Department of Agriculture, have been prevented from accessing support schemes which are administered by the Department of Higher Education.
Teachta Carthy said:
“I welcome the response from the Minister for Agriculture that Teagasc is looking to put in place dedicated supports for these students by the end of the year.
“For some time now, I have been calling on the Ministers for Agriculture and Further Education stop the exclusion of these students.
“Students who choose to study agriculture are as deserving of supports as all others.
“I do however have concerns that this scheme has been pulled together at very short notice and may pose a challenge in the delivery of these funds by the end of the year.
“Only last month the Minister stated to me in response to a parliamentary question that he was engaging the Minister of Higher Education to make the case for the inclusion in the new Covid-19 Support Scheme, and made no reference to student hardship supports.
“Given that the most recent update indicates that the Department of Agriculture is now instead planning to directly fund these students via comparable schemes administered by Teagasc, and via funds not accounted for in Budget 2021, it seems these plans have been pulled together at very short notice and will require a brand new system of administration.
“It is critical that the Minister works with Teagasc to ensure that these student supports can meet the Department’s goal of delivering support to students this year.
“Direct funding via the Department does also offer the opportunity to permanently secure these supports.
“At tomorrow’s meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, I intend to ask the Minister to commit to this permanent funding, and seek an update on how the outworkings of administering the scheme are progressing.”