A loans scheme for the funding of third-level education has been derided as a "bad deal for farming families" that will only place a "burden on young farmers".
The student loans model would see students incurring debt throughout their education before paying it off after graduation. This debt would be paid once the graduate started earning €26,000 per annum.
But Union of Students in Ireland (USI) president Annie Hoey told ThatsFarming.com that it will place pressure on families and will not work in the long run. Hoey, who is from a farming background, said that similar plans in the UK and America have seen third-level costs rise far beyond what was first indicated, with maintenance grants being lost in the former.
"In the UK when they brought in the loan, it was only at £1,000, now they are looking at £9,000 and up to £16,000 a year. Eventually the maintenance grants were scrapped in the UK and were replaced with loans, leading to even more of a burden on the students.
"Right now we are being told for Irish students it could be €20,000-plus debt, but the "plus" is very important here. There is no where in the world where loans are reduced. It's a can of worms, [they will] add on a bit on here and another bit on here. Many farming children rely on the grant, it wouldn't have been comprehensible to go on to college without the grant," she said.
A poll in this week's Irish Examiner showed that more farm families were against to the loans plan than in favour, while off-farm income households were in favour of it.
This did not surprise Hoey, saying farm families "know what it's like to have to pay back loans, often from a very young age. To take on the running of a farm, or of a business, they wouldn't wish that additional loan on a young person because they know hard that can be. I think many farmers have had to take out loans outside of morgatrages to buy equipment, buy stock, and I think they know and don't want their children to go through with it".
However she did concede that the USI may have to compromise on their aim of a free education model funded by general taxation, saying that a compromise may have to be sought with a lowering of the registration fee.
"We won't wake up in 2017 and have publicly funded education, but the aim right now has to be not to burden young people's futures and to actually invest in young people's futures", she said.