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24th February 2013

Oxford University college sued for ‘elitism’

The Mancunion talks to the Salford student suing St. Hugh’s college for “only admitting those wealthy enough to partake in traditions”

A Salford student is suing an Oxford University college after being refused a place because he didn’t have enough money.

Damien Shannon applied for an economic and social history masters course at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, and was awarded a place.

However, his offer was then withdrawn by the college because he could not provide evidence that he had access to £12,900 in living expenses.

Mr Shannon is now taking legal action against the college for what he calls a breach of his human rights.

On their website, St. Hugh’s College claim that they “aim to admit the brightest students […] regardless of their educational, social or ethnic background.”

Mr Shannon, on the other hand, claims otherwise.

“How can [this rule] not dissuade poorer students from applying? In order to take up a place at Oxford you must prove access to wealth,” Mr Shannon told The Mancunion.

“It is a case of elitism, for the simple reason that the University appears to be trying to preserve its traditions by only admitting those wealthy enough to partake in them.”

The requirement itself is not the only aspect coming under criticism. How St. Hugh’s College arrived at the figure has also been called into question.

“The College have admitted in court that the figure includes the entry fees to local nightclubs, cinema tickets, mobile phones, sizeable and unexplained sums for clothes and ‘leisure’,” Mr Shannon explained.

“On any objective assessment of the figures that the University has set out, they are excessive and are designed to allow a student to live a rather generous lifestyle, rather than designed to allow them to complete their studies.”

“The idea that not being able to afford to visit nightclubs regularly will render a student incapable of succeeding in the seminar room is laughable.”

Oxford University claims that the rule is in place to help students.

“At Oxford, we require a financial guarantee before the start of a postgraduate’s course to ensure that students can cover their fees and living costs,” explained Ruth Collier, Head of Press and Information Office at the University of Oxford.

“We consider this preferable for the welfare of the individual student, as it lessens the risk of people dropping out part way through a course.”

Damien Shannon dismissed this claim as “simply not true”.

“People drop out regardless of this rule existing, including for financial reasons.” he said.

“The College have revealed in court that students already studying, who run into financial difficulty, can draw on College and University funding for assistance.”

“These are freedoms not open to applicants, who must have all the money upfront […] and cannot draw on any means-based support.”

Director of graduate admissions Jane Elizabeth Sherwood had to apologise last week in court for previously falsely claiming that other Universities had the same admission practices.

The hearings are ongoing. Judge Armitage QC will return to Manchester country court with a judgment at an unspecified future date.

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