Dáil Éireann - Volume 548 - 14 February, 2002

Written Answers. - Agricultural Training.

  44. Mr. Kirk asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the measures the Government has introduced since 1997 to foster agricultural education and training; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4266/02]

  Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (Mr. Walsh): The importance that the Government attaches to agricultural education and training is reflected in the substantial resources it has provided to Teagasc in recent years to deliver first class education and training programmes and to provide student facilities on a par with those of comparable training institutes.

  I have always held the view that training is just as important for a career in agriculture as it is for any other career and, accordingly, fostering agricultural education and training has been one of my most important priorities. In November 1999, I established a special task force, representative of all the major stakeholders, to review the training needs of agriculture in the context of the changing social and economic environment and to make recommendations, where appropriate, to address those needs. Arising from the task force's recommendations, several significant developments have already taken place in Teagasc's programmes which will transform agricultural education and training in this country.

  First, the accreditation of the education and [989] training programmes by the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, incorporating the Higher and Further Education and Training Awards Councils, has raised the standing of the qualifications, both nationally and internationally. Second, ten third level education programmes, with recruitment through the CAO system, are now provided jointly with the institutes of technology. Third, students who secure the necessary merit or distinction now have the opportunity to advance into university with a one year reduction in qualification time. In addition, vocational certificates in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and horses have been designed specifically to meet the needs of school leavers who do not wish to pursue the higher education programmes outlined above.

  A number of improvements have also taken place in regard to student allowances. The weekly allowance payable to students while on long-term placement is being doubled to €190 this year. Last year a new weekly allowance of €190 payable to students while on block release was introduced while the daily allowance payable to students undertaking courses at local Teagasc centres was doubled.

  The Government has also recognised the need for substantial capital investment in the training colleges and centres around the country. In the past two years, my Department has provided €7.8 million to Teagasc to undertake major upgrading and refurbishment of the training facilities. As announced in the recent budget, the allocation for this purpose in the current year has been increased to €6.3 million.

  In addition to the substantial resources provided to Teagasc, the state also provides a range of incentives to encourage young farmers to undertake training. These include stamp duty exemption, stock relief, installation aid, higher rates of investment aid, and priority access to additional quota under the ewe premium, suckler cow and milk quota schemes.

  All of these developments should have a positive impact on take-up of training opportunities. I am pleased to see that student intake into the agricultural and horticultural colleges has increased marginally this year to 900.