THE HIGH COURT has this morning dismissed a judicial review sought by three college students against a reform to the student maintenance grants system enacted by Ruairí Quinn last year.
The action had been taken in the name of three students whose maintenance grants were being cut by an aggregate total of over €10,000 per year. They was backed by the Union of Students in Ireland, who had offered legal representation for the students.
The students had claimed that the changes to grants – which were announced in Brian Lenihan’s final Budget, but which only became law through a statutory instrument signed by Ruairí Quinn last June – were in breach of Section 6 of the Student Support Act 2011.
That section outlines that students who are already in receipt of a maintenance grant should “continue to receive the grant concerned until the person has completed that course and he or she shall not apply for a grant other than the grant of which he or she is in receipt”.
The students also argued that they had a legitimate expectation that although the value of their grant may rise and fall on an annual basis, they would continue to receive grants at the previous categorisation.
This morning, however, Justice John Hedigan ruled in favour of the Minister for Education on both grounds. The Minister had defended the proposals by saying they were necessary given the severe economic shock the state had undergone in the past few years.
Profound economic shock
Hedigan agreed, finding that the profound economic difficulties being experienced by the State had greater significance than the legitimate expectation which the students had about the status of their grants.
The 2011 changes meant that students were required to live more than 45km from their college in order to qualify for the higher ‘non-adjacent’ rate of grants, raising the threshold from 24km.
One of the three students taking the case, originally from Co Clare but studying at NUI Galway, said the change in grants meant she could not afford to live in Galway and had to move home – where public transport options meant it was impossible to get to college before 11am.
The changes, combined with general reductions in the grant amounts, meant that students who lived between the two boundaries and who qualified for the highest category of grant saw cuts from €6,100 down to €2,445 as a result of the new boundary changes.
USI estimates that around 25,000 existing students were affected by the change, with around 7,000 of these being mature students over the age of 23.
The court gave the students seven days to consider seeking an appeal to the ruling. This morning USI president Gary Redmond said he believed there was grounds for the ruling to be appealed, but that the costs of pursuing an appeal would be a factor in whether one was sought.