Last Wednesday saw Leaving Cert students the lenght and breadth of the country nervously returning back to secondary school to receive their results. For many it was a joyous occasion while for some there was cause for disappointment. These young people now have to sit down and consider their future whether that be in the general work force or attending a third level institute.
For the next batch facing the exam next year these are worrying times for parents who are self employed or who operate a farm. The last week has seen huge debate into the issue of the government tragetting assets while looking at the college grant system.
Minister for Education Ruiari Quinn has signalled how he would like to broaden the means test for third-level student grants to include capital assets in addition to income.
The move comes hot on the heels of figures released from the Higher Education Authority that more than 40 percent of farmers and close to 50 percent of all self employed people secure a college grant for their sons or daughters. In contrast only 17 percent of those from families headed by a ‘lower professionals’ can expect to be grant aided in college.
The question that is being asked by many is how fair such a proposal is.
Many farners may be asset rich and income poor and any proposal such as this, if implemented, would mean the sale of land or a missed opportunity by their child to attend college.
The same can be applied to many self employed business people - think of all those employed in the building trade in Leitrim who may have machinery and tools of the trade but which presently lie idle as they themselves have no work.
Yet many will claim, on the other hand, that there has been manipulation of figures by farmers and self employed in the past which has allowed them to come under the thrsehold for grant aid. But are we to tar all with the one brush and simnply sweep them under one bundle.
There is no doubt there are wealthy people out there who know the system and all its loopholes and who can work it to their advantage. It is these people the government are targetting in their far seeking net.
However with many decent and honest farmers struggling, especially after a disastrous summer, many will see this as the final nail in their financial pocket.
It is not anticipated that any move will be made this year but any proposal or change would come into effect for next years tranche of students. However one thing is clear - this is a contentious agrument that will divide politicans, parties, farming and none farming families.