Having picked up business for the Leaving Certificate, first-year Bachelor of Commerce student Joseph Cunnane has just been awarded the inaugural Hygeia Scholarship from the University of Galway.

“The University sent out an email from Hygeia to everyone in J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics,” he says.

“I applied for it and had to get a 2.1 average with my Christmas results to be called for an interview. I was delighted to be selected; I couldn’t believe it. The first thing I did was tell my parents and they were very proud.”

Growing up on a beef and suckler with Aubrac cattle, Joseph had a keen interest in agriculture.

“At the age of five, I was going to the marts. I was brought out on the farm and helped Dad with a few jobs, I loved it.

“I think it’s a great upbringing and a good lifestyle, you’re out in nature with the animals. You also learn responsibility in the job; cattle still have to be fed on the weekends, but it’s a brilliant life,” says Joseph.

When it came to choosing his college course, Joseph got a lot of advice from people around him.

“My sister Sabrina went to the University of Galway (NUIG at the time) and is now working as a management consultant in Dublin,” he says. “She was very helpful and advised me to do it because it leads to a lot of careers.

“I spoke with Michael Gill, who I know from the local mart. He’s an accountant and a lecturer at ATU Castlebar.

“I met with him and he told me it opens lots of doors and there’s a wide variety of subjects, including finance, economics and marketing.”

College life

Due to the lack of accommodation near campus, Joseph ended up commuting from Athenry for the first year of his course.

“I enjoyed the first year, I met some amazing people and really good friends. I found the workload very manageable; if you put in the effort, you get a good return.

“With the high cost of living and demand, it is quite difficult to find accommodation in Galway. One thing I would like to see done is more affordable student accommodation being built at the university.”

Joseph is always eager to help out with jobs on the farm when he is home from college at the weekends and now over the summer months.

He sees himself farming part-time in the future but decided to do the business degree as he doesn’t think it is sustainable on its own.

“I believe now with the way farming is going that you need a full-time job along with part-time farming to cover the rising costs. I do plan to a bit of part-time farming when I’m older, along with another job as well,” says Joseph.

A change in agriculture Joseph would like to see is more support for young farmers.

“Only 3% of the CAP budget is allocated to young farmers – if it could be increased to 20% to help young people to get into farming, I think it would be very sustainable for the industry,” he says. “It won’t happen overnight but even a gradual increase would help.”

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