Challenge to medical school selection criteria fails


A STUDENT who failed to get a place on a medical degree course has lost his High Court challenge aimed at altering the system of allocating places on those courses.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton said the change advocated by Frank Prendergast would result in a "market free-for-all based on money" and upset the principle of equality of access to education.

Such a change would not accord with the constitutional principles of prudence or charity and would "do nothing towards furthering the constitutional aim of true social order", he added.

Mr Justice Charleton was delivering his reserved judgment rejecting Mr Prendergast's claim that an unfair policy operates in the education system here whereby people from outside the EU can pay to get places on undergraduate medicine courses when Irish citizens and EU nationals cannot.

Mr Prendergast (20), Mount Merrion Avenue, Co Dublin, had asked the court to declare unlawful and unconstitutional a decision of the Minister for Education and Science and the Higher Education Authority (HEA) limiting the number of places for EU students.

Mr Prendergast failed to get the required points for medicine after doing his Leaving Cert in 2006 and 2007. He applied to five institutions offering to pay the fees charged to non-EU students for whom places are set aside on medical courses. The institutions said they could not give him a place on that basis.

Mr Justice Charleton said Mr Prendergast sought for the existing system to be overturned and for the medical schools to decide on entry requirements instead of the HEA and the Minister.

This would upset the Government's policy in relation to equality of educational opportunity. The judge said he was satisfied that the policy operated fairly.

During the five-day action, the judge had heard the Government had decided in the 1980s to increase the number of foreign students in university medical schools "to the maximum extent possible".

This helped to fund the medical schools and, after third-level fees were abolished in 1995, such funding became even more important for the universities. The Government had at that time rejected the notion that medical schools should be allowed to take in some Irish students whose parents could afford to pay the full economic fee.

Through the 1990s, the number of foreign students steadily crept up and, by 2006, some 40 per cent of places were allocated to EU students while 60 per cent were allocated to non-EU students, the judge noted. In hospitals, the number of non-consultant doctors from outside the EU rose from 13 per cent in 1984 to about 60 per cent last year.

As a result of these figures, a group of experts, chaired by former UCG president Prof Patrick Fottrell, was set up. It recommended that the number of Irish/EU entrants be increased from 305 yearly to 725 yearly over the next four years, with about one-third of that number being graduates. As a result, Mr Justice Charleton said it was expected that the number of non-EU medical students would drop to about 29 per cent by 2010.