Sussex University has been ordered to apologise and pay thousands in compensation to three students who were unfairly suspended for participating in a protest.
The institution spent more than £100,000 in legal fees taking action against the students, and must now pay four of them between £2,000 and £2,500 for the "distress and inconvenience" caused.
The students had participated in protests in 2015 against the university's privatisation of non-academic services at one of its campuses.
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In 2013, vice chancellor Michael Farthing suspended five students, who became known as the "Sussex Five", for playing an "organising role" in the ongoing protests. They were excluded from their studies and banned from campus, while the university made changes to its disciplinary process so the students were not permitted to have legal representation.
The five students received widespread support following their suspension, including from model Cara Delevingne, while a petition signed by 10,000 people called to revoke of the campus ban.
Support the 5 Sussex uni students suspended indefintely for taking part in democratic protest! pic.twitter.com/g5EMtTPnIY— Cara Delevingne (@Caradelevingne) December 9, 2013
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education has since ruled Sussex's actions were unjustified and the university had not followed a "fair procedure".
"Reasonable suspicion that the decision had been reached in order to prevent the students involved from being legally represented," the universities ombudsman found.
Speaking to HuffPost UK, Lewis Nielsen, one of the Sussex Five, said: "This verdict proves how incompetent Sussex University management are.
"It exposes what kind of people are now running universities - businessmen who see education as an arena to increase privatisation and make profit, and are prepared to suspend those who protest against their agenda."
Adriano Mérola Marotta, another of the students who was suspended, called for Farthing's resignation.
"[Farthing's] disdain for democracy and protest makes the Vice-Chancellor unfit to run a university and he should resign immediately," he told HuffPost UK. "Since 2012 we have struggled alongside staff for the realisation of our dual aims – an end to private profiteering in universities and the democratic restructuring of Sussex to ensure the interests of staff and students come first."
A spokesman for the University of Sussex said: “We note the OIA’s findings that there needs to be greater clarity and transparency of information in regards to the process for student disciplinary matters.
“We have established an independent working group to review and make recommendations on this matter. We anticipate putting these into effect through revised university regulations and will inform all relevant parties. Alongside this, the OIA’s case recommendations will be implemented.”Suggest a correction