USI supports students in case against Minister for Education

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) is supporting three students who are seeking judicial review of the Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn’s decision to change the qualification criteria for the Non-Adjacent Maintenance Grant from a student’s home residence being twenty-four to forty-five kilometres away from their respective academic institution, as well as to abolish the automatic entitlement of mature students to the non-adjacent rate.

The students seeking the judicial review are Galway-Mayo IT mature student Iesha Rowan, NUI Galway student Medb McCarthy, and Dundalk IT student Robert Johnson.

Both of these changes are not being imposed solely on students who are about to enter the system, but on those who are already in the system, which is one of the main grounds of the judicial review. USI Deputy President Colm Murphy explains that when changes are normally made to the grant scheme, it is only for incoming students, “for example, in relation to the cuts in the Postgraduate Grant that happened in Budget 2012, those cuts affected students who would have been new entrants to the system in September this year. This, unusually, cut people who are already in the system.”

USI are arguing that the students had a legitimate expectation that the criteria for grants would not have changed. A provision exists within the new Student Support Act that the legal team are arguing prevents the Minister from making such changes in the first place.

“We’re not arguing that the Minister does not have the right to change the rates, clearly he does … Never before in the history of the grant system, which is about forty years old, has distance criteria been changed. For a student who is on the absolute top rate of the grant, one would have to be on a reckonable income of €22,703 or less, some or all of which would have to be part of a specified social welfare payment, so you are talking about the most vulnerable of students … Mature students were automatically on the non-adjacent rate in view of the fact that mature students in general would have other commitments that other traditional students wouldn’t have in the way of child-care, expenses of running of a family.”

USI are supporting the three students and the case itself, “we’re providing the knowledge, expertise, and institutional knowledge to the legal team as obviously they would not be as familiar as we would be with the history of the grant system.”

Murphy insists that USI’s role in the case has been extensive, “the Minister has sent back a lot of replying affidavits and we’ve worked extensively with the legal team to formulate responses to those. Myself and Gary were in court on Thursday and Friday assisting the legal team in making the case.”

Mr. Justice Hedigan has been assigned to the case. The case was heard on February 23rd and 24th and a verdict is expected back soon, though may take over a week.