A PhD student has accused the university of “censorship” due to facing disciplinary action after taking to social media to complain about an alleged funding withdrawal.
On Friday 8th October Majid Ahmed posted on university Chancellor Lemn Sissays’ wall describing financial struggles that he faced after receiving a letter that told him he was not eligible for funding he had previously been awarded.
He also wrote of his “disappointment” that the Chancellor had apparently refused to meet him. In the post, he claimed he was experiencing “poor treatment and unprofessional conduct by the University of Manchester and they have left me in a position where they are unfairly pressuring me to pay them £12,000 to be awarded my PhD – no academic issues whatsoever.”
Since the post, Majid said he has been threatened with disciplinary action. He said, “after making a serious error in managing my fellowship, they were now trying to avoid any accountability, pressure me into paying more money for my PhD and then censoring me from saying anything about the way I was being treated.”
Majid’s dispute began in 2014. Majid had been awarded a (basic clinical training) fellowship from the British Heart Foundation of 164,000 pounds in April 2014. In September of the same year, Majid was given an unconditional offer to study for his PhD in Medicine.
In the letter, it clearly states that Majid’s tuition fees would be covered by the fellowship.
Since receiving the grant he had turned down the opportunity to train as a Foundation Doctor as he wanted to continue in academia. He then took a staff position within the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Manchester alongside his PhD course.
However, a couple of weeks after receiving the initial letter, the university contacted Majid in what he described as a “very frank email” that he would actually have to pay his tuition fees himself. He told The Mancunion that this left him in a difficult financial position and he needed an advance on his salary.
Whilst on a planned academic visit to the USA, he began his dispute to challenge the alleged change in decision. He received support from his supervisor Dr Adam Greenstein (University of Manchester). However, in the last three years, Majid claims he has struggled to gain support or advice from the Student’s Union, the doctoral academy, or the Head of his department. Many have told him there was simply nothing they could do, even when he was threatened by Credit Central after accumulating masses of debt.
The Mancunion have asked for comment from all three, but have been told none are able to provide any whilst the case is still being processed.
Majid was eventually told of a “Staff Fee Remission Form” in which he could potentially claim 50 per cent of his tuition fees. “No one had told me before,” and this was “very late in the process,” Majid said. He continued that it made him wonder “who is/isn’t entitled to it.”
He went on to submit a “retrospective application” which he believed to be very “generous” as he had not expected to pay anything at all.
His application was, however, declined. He said this was because he was a “clinical research fellow” and the university claims this training is purely for his own benefit.
Majid also disputeed this claim. He had been recruited after receiving a distinction in his Masters and developing a partnership with Dr Adam Greenstein and was insulted that his efforts are, to his mind, not appreciated by the University.
After contacting Nancy Rothwell, Majid was referred to Professor Peter Clayton. Clayton had all correspondence reviewed, following which Majid finally received an apology for the alleged curtness in the original email. A review of payment was also conducted and the university offered to pay for the remainder of Majid’s final year, as well as the £300 all PhD students are entitled to.
Majid declined the offer claiming they had “not gone far enough.”
Since the post, Majid has met with Lemn Sissay in person, who Majid says has now given him support by sharing his post on social media and calling it a “wake up call.”
Majid fears his decision to go public has ruined his academic career and questions whether to leave and return to his work later on. Though he adds “maybe I won’t because I was pushed out.”
“I was handing out [flyers] and posting information to other students and staff about my situation and asking for help…The staff in my department and the faculty did not like it.”
Majid said that he is “certain” that the threat of disciplinary action against him “is not an isolated situation and actually this tendency for the University to try imposing sanctions and making life difficult for individuals who are fighting for justice, be that their own justice or the justice of others.”
He went on to say that he believes it “goes against the principles of the Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom.”
Majid is still devoted to his work, despite his struggles. He wants to encourage young people to strive for a career in science and not put them off by his own experience.