USI had sought leave to judicially review changes to the new student grant scheme proposed in last year's Budget, which made major changes to the rules governing how far a student must live from college in order to receive a higher (non-adjacent) rate of grant payment.
The last Budget replaced the 24 kilometres threshold with a new one of 45 kilometres - the Government claiming that improvements to public transport made it more feasible to commute to college from long distances.
USI insists this is simply not the case and that thousands of current students are facing unmanageable cuts of over 60 per cent in their grants as a result.
The High Court heard that current students could not legitimately have expected their grants to be cut by so much - in some cases seeing their grant cut from €6,100 to €2,445 as a result of the new boundary changes.
USI President Gary Redmond said the Government encouraged school leavers to go onto college and mature students to return to education but that the recent grant cuts would force many of those to emigrate or onto ever increasing ‘dole’ queues.
Mr. Redmond said:
“The biggest victims of these cuts are students from the most financially disadvantaged backgrounds who rely on the grant to stay in education. If this cut is not reversed many of these students will have no choice but to drop out.
This is yet another example of disjointed Government policies. While they claim to promote upskilling and building a smart, knowledge based economy the Minister for Education is threatening the future of up to 25,000 students.”
USI represented by Dublin based legal firm Mangan O’Beirne Solicitors is supporting a number of the cases of a number of plaintiffs as part of its legal action, including one example where a student has effectively been forced out of college entirely.
The cut in her grant means she can no longer afford to live in Galway, where she studies – but public transport from her native Clare means she cannot make it to college until after 11am each morning.
Redmond said that while students understand the country’s financial situation, a cut of 60 per cent was “unprecedented, savage and unjust” given that grants have already been cut by 5% in 2010 and a further 4% in 2011.
In February, days before the general election, Ruairí Quinn, then Labour spokesperson on Education & Skills, signed a USI pledge promising that the Labour Party would not increase student fees or cut student grants in the next Government.