A school-leaver who was denied a student loan has succeeded in overturning a blanket ban – related to immigration status – on funding for higher education.
The supreme court decision could pave the way for hundreds of other young people who are settled in Britain and have been to school in this country to carry on to higher education.
The case was brought by Beaurish Tigere, 20, who arrived from Zambia with her parents at 6 and went on to attend primary and secondary schools in York.
She became head girl, obtained three A-levels and won a place at Northumbria University to read international business management. When she applied for student finance, however, she was was told that her immigration status of discretionary leave to remain meant she was not eligible for a loan.
The supreme court found that the blanket exclusionary rule preventing anyone except UK citizens or those with indefinite leave to remain in the UK from applying for student loans was disproportionate and could not be justified.
Delivering the judgment on Wednesday, Lady Hale, deputy president of the court, said: “The numbers affected are not insignificant but a tiny proportion of the student loans which are made every year … These young people will find it hard to understand why they are allowed access to all the public services, including cash welfare benefits, but are denied access to this one benefit which is a repayable loan.”
She suggested that a delay of only three years for regularising ordinary residence status would be better than the period of up to 10 years currently in force.
Many school-leavers did not discover they were not entitled to a grant until their final year at school. Paul Heron, a solicitor with Public Interest Lawyers, who represented Tigere, said: “Beaurish is a talented and brave individual and is a credit to the school system in the UK. She has worked hard to obtain excellent grades. Yet she was denied the opportunity to go to university for the past two years. She has now succeeded in challenging this policy.
“The regulations … made no economic sense. The court’s decision will now allow her and hundreds of other students unfairly excluded from higher education the opportunity to fulfil their potential.”
The legal charity Just for Kids Law, which intervened in the case, welcomed the judgment. Its director, Shauneen Lambe, said: “This ruling is wonderful news for many ambitious and academically successful young people, who would otherwise be blocked from ever entering professions which require a degree.
“We look forward to working with the government to make sure their ability to get a loan is restored in time for this year’s A-level results on 13 August so that students who have achieved their grades have the chance to take up university places in the autumn.”
Many school-leavers in a similar position attended the judgment at the supreme court in Westminster, London. Dami Makinde, 21, said afterwards: “This is the best outcome we could have had. I don’t know how quickly it will change. We may have to wait a while but at least we can go to university. I’m ecstatic.”
Makinde, who has been granted limited leave to remain in the UK, has been offered a place at Royal Holloway College in Surrey to study psychology and criminology but has been told she will have to pay £13,000 a year as a foreign student because she does not qualify for a student loan.
Emmanuel Opuku, 20, who has been offered a place at Imperial College in London to read chemistry, was told he would have to pay £26,000 to take up his place because he was not entitled to a loan. “I have had to go on two gap years,” he said. “This campaign shows that we have had some effect.”
Alison East, a solicitor at Coram Children’s Legal Centre who provided evidence for the hearing, said: “These young people have worked hard to do well at school and at college, and aspire to achieve the best they can. Seeing their friends and peers go to university when they cannot and being aware of being held back for as long as 10 years in pursuing qualifications that are essential in a competitive job market inevitably causes these young people to feel marginalised, which is why we are thrilled with the supreme court ruling in this instance.”
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said it was considering the detail of the judgment.