Minister for Further and Higher Education Simon Harris secured an agreement for a €160m funding package to help meet the additional costs to the third level sector associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harris secured approval for a €15m funding package to help with online learning that could assist 10,000 students’ access laptops, tablets and internet connectivity.

Some €3m will be made available for mental health supports and a further €16m to double the student assistance fund at a time when many young people have lost their part-time jobs.

Agriculture excluded

Students from agricultural colleges are currently excluded from the €15m education fund, Macra na Feirme national president Thomas Duffy has said.

Speaking with Irish Country Living, Duffy said: “We were informed by Minister Harris that agricultural colleges are not covered by his department and it is now up to the Department of Agriculture. We raised this with former Minister Dara Calleary but received no follow up.

“The exclusion of agriculture students may have been a possible oversight from the department and we are hoping for this to be rectified soon.”

Same barriers

Macra has said that the almost 6,000 students attending Teagasc colleges have the same technological needs as university and institute of technology students.

Macra na Feirme agricultural affairs chair Shane Fitzgerald told Irish Country Living: “Students in agricultural colleges are facing the same barriers and challenges as those in universities and institutes of technology.

“A lot of our members have gone through these colleges and we’d like to see the correct supports put in place. Students don’t have a lot of spare money and will need help in buying new tech which isn’t cheap.

“Broadband in the rural areas these students are from might not be up to speed and it is highly important they have access to a good internet connection.”