Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland student loses High Court battle over being denied funding for Dublin degree course

By Alan Erwin

A Northern Ireland student has lost a High Court battle over being denied funding for a degree course in Dublin.

Aimee Liggett was seeking to challenge a Department for the Economy decision that law studies she wanted to undertake were not eligible for financial support.

Judicial review proceedings were also issued against the Student Loans Company (SLC) and the Education Authority.

Ms Liggett, now aged 20, was offered a place at Griffith College in Dublin following her A Levels in 2015.

At the time she phoned the SLC and was initially advised that she was entitled to student support if she attended Griffith, the court heard.

Her lawyers argued that in a further call she was assured the college was designated for funding purposes.

But she was left shocked when the Education Authority informed her that Griffith was not covered by student support arrangements in Northern Ireland.

At that stage she contacted the SLC again, and was then told that the college is not among the institutions where funding is provided.

Amid complaints about her treatment, Ms Liggett met the Minister at Parliament Buildings to discuss her case.

However, with her course in Dublin later confirmed as being ineligible for funding, she launched High Court proceedings.

The challenge centred on whether she had a substantive legitimate expectation that she would receive student support and finding.

Rejecting any claim against the Education Authority, Mr Justice Maguire held it had acted consistently with its legal obligations.

"The mistakes which were made in this case plainly were those made by the SLC's advisers," he said.

The judge also ruled that the Department's role was limited, without being the decision maker.

Characterising the case as one involving human error and a mistake in the realm of public administration, he said the funding advice Ms Liggett received from the SLC was "not ambiguous".

Despite this, he identified substantive legitimate expectation capable of being enforced.

"It must derive from an agency or body which possesses the power to make the expectation good," Mr Justice Maguire said.

Dismissing the challenge, he added: "The expectation arose from what was said by advisers within the SLC but neither they, nor the SLC itself, in law was the relevant decision maker in respect of the funding in this case.

"The relevant decision maker was the Education Authority, and the SLC did not speak for it."

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