Student Damien Shannon Takes Oxford University To Court In Finances Dispute

A would-be university student is taking an Oxford college to court alleging that it turned him down for a place on financial grounds because he could not prove he had enough money to support himself while he was there.

Damien Shannon, 26, from Salford, Greater Manchester, claims that St Hugh's College is discriminating against poorer students by requiring them to prove they can afford living expenses which he regards as disproportionate.

He says his offer of a place on a one-year economic and social history masters course was withdrawn because he could not provide evidence that he had access to £21,000.

Shannon, who took a job as a civil servant after failing to secure the university place, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "They wanted the cost of the university and college fees plus their projected living costs. The total figure was just over £21,000.

"They ask you ordinarily for a statement from a bank manager, an accountant or a lawyer, testifying that the funds are available and will continue to be available for the duration of study.

"When I originally applied I thought it might be possible to raise the money. When you apply, you don't know if the university or anybody else is going to fund you, so it is not until you get pretty close to the deadline for submitting this information that you have a realistic idea of whether or not you are going to be able to provide it."

Shannon said he took out a loan to cover his tuition fees, but could not prove he had access to a further £12,900 to cover his living costs.

He added: "There was a moment when I wrote to them and said 'I am not going to be able to get this evidence available before the term starts, however you are guaranteed to receive your fees and would the college be minded to exercise some leniency?'. And they weren't."

Shannon's case is expected to be heard on Friday at Manchester County Court, where he will argue that the amount of cash required for living costs was not proportionate.

"My claim is that they have acted in a way which is incompatible with the Human Rights Act by adopting a decision which unfairly restricts the right of access to education," he said.

"It is not necessarily unlawful to restrict for financial means - obviously fees themselves are a financial restriction, but they have to be levied. The argument that is going to be had today is whether or not the extra levy, which is having your living costs up front, is necessary or proportionate.

"I don't think it is going to affect any other universities. As far as I am aware, Oxford is the only university that has this policy."

A spokesman for St Hugh's College told the BBC: "The requirement that postgraduate students provide a financial guarantee in order to take up their course place at the University of Oxford is made clear to potential applicants".

A university spokesman added that requiring a financial guarantee from post-graduate students was considered "preferable not only for the institution but for the welfare of the individual student, as it prevents dropouts and disruption part way through a course".