Friday, November 12, 2004

Financing education is becoming EU competence

This is rather a difficult story, as the Ealing Borough Council seems to be in the wrong. There is, however, some matter of principle to resolve.

The story concerns a young Frenchman, Dany Bidar, who moved to Britain in 1998, completed the last three years of his secondary education in this country and went on to university, specifically, University College, London and applied to Ealing Borough Council for funding. This was in 2001, when he had lived in the country for three years.

He was given assistance with his tuition fees but his application for a maintenance loan was turned down as he was not considered to be settled in this country, government guidelines on that being that the applicant has to have lived here for four years.

Mr Bidar challenged the decision as being discriminatory on the basis of nationality. The European Court's Advocate-General, Leendert Geelhoed, in a non-binding opinion, upheld his challenge, pointing out that, although in the past student maintenance costs had not been within EU competence, the Treaty of Maastricht had brought education within “the scope of the community”.

Mr Geelhoed explained that he was aware of the possible dangers of “student loan tourism”, but if a student had
"… a real link with the national education system and society, these conditions must be appropriate and they must not go beyond what is necessary for achieving that aim".
The case will now go to the European Court of Justice and a decision is expected in the spring of next year. In 80 per cent of the cases the Advocate-General’s decision is upheld.

While one feels the young man was probably entitled to the loan, the probable decision in the European Court will open up all sorts of possibilities in the future.

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