Agricultural Colleges over-subscribedJune 2009
The number of students applying to agricultural colleges is up 40% on last year, with in excess of 900 applications from prospective students. With the huge number of applications, some college principals say they will have to turn people away for the first time since the late nineties.
The main driver behind the increased interest is the current recession, with limited job prospects for school leavers, and redundant construction workers returning to agricultural education. There has been a marked increase in the age profile of prospective students, with many now returning to farming after years working elsewhere.
For the one year Certificate in Agriculture (CIA) course, Kildalton has received 250 applications but only has 105 places. The pattern is the same for other colleges; Ballyhaise - 150 applications for 100 places; Clonakilty - 170 applications for 80 places; Pallaskenry - 146 applications for 80 places. Mountbellew and Gurteen have received around 100 applications each but are currently unclear on their maximum capacity.
However, there is concern that the Teagasc ban on recruitment will hinder the colleges' ability to cater for these students since new staff cannot be taken on or those on maternity leave replaced. Vinny Flynn, a lecturer at the Franciscan Brothers Agricultural College, said "we are not sure yet how many students we will accept as places are limited. But the number we can take on depends on staff levels".
Paddy Browne, Assistant Director of Training and Development with Teagasc, said applications for 2009/2010 will be up in the region of 40% on last year's figures. Numbers applying in 2008/09 were up 36% on 2007/2008 levels. "This is the first year in a while that we will be restricting intake to colleges. Across the board all agricultural courses are up, with the Certificate in Agriculture (CIA) the most popular course. The CAO higher level courses with the ITs are up on first preference choices as well," Browne said.
John McCarthy, Principal of Pallaskenry College, said "We have managed to absorb the increases for the past number of years but its the first time in six years that we haven't got enough places for students". He added that the points could go up for the CAO courses.
Gurteen College Principal, Mike Pearson, told the Farmers Journal: "The number of students applying is very encouraging, but I wish the Government would realise how important agricultural education is at the moment".
Macra na Feirme, national president, Michael Gowing said that 'agricultural education must be accessible to all on a full-time basis across the country' and called on Professor Gerry Boyle of Teagasc to ensure that all students who meet the current qualifying criteria for applying to study (for example the Certificate in Agriculture) are given the opportunity to do so. "It is important that students are not the victims of the Teagasc change program 2009-2013," he said.
In further proof of the renewed interest in a career in farming, 96 young farmers recently participated in the joint Macra-Teagasc new entrants to dairying workshop in Moorepark.
Meanwhile, at Warrenstown College, 200 students at the college could be left in limbo. The students and staff were to be transferred to the Botanic gardens and staff taken over by Teagasc. It is understood that the Department of Finance has not sanctioned this process and has gone to the Attorney General for legal advice as this move could breach the moratorium on staff increases in the public sector.
Darraqh Mullen (Irish Farmers Journal)