Three students have lost a High Court challenge against cuts of around 60% to their maintenance grants.
Medb McCarthy, a student at NUI Galway, Robert Johnson, studying at Dundalk IT and Iesha Rowan, a mature student at Galway-Mayo IT, brought the action.
It was considered a test case for around 25,000 students who are affected by changes brought in last year.
The court found the grant cuts were in the public interest given the financial circumstances facing the country.
In his judgment Mr Justice John Hedigan found that even if the students had a legitimate expectation that the old grant system would remain in place, overwhelming considerations of the public interest would outweigh it in the light of the dire financial circumstances facing the country at the time the decision was made.
President of the Union of Students of Ireland Gary Redmond said the union was bitterly disappointed by the ruling.
"Four days out from the General Election, this minister, when he was Labour education spokesperson, unequivocally said there would be no cuts to student supports and no increases in student fees.
"Less than 14 months on, we've seen the minister announce a 50% increase in student fees over the next four years and he's presided over a 60% cut in grants to the most vulnerable students," he said.
"We're calling on the Minister to come out and explain why he's done this, why he lied to the people and why we're back to the 'same old, same old' politics."
Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn welcomed the judgement.
"Given the complexity of the case, the Minister will consider the judgement further in consultation with his legal team," a statement from his Department read.