Oxford University Apologies To Student Damien Shannon In 'Poor Discrimination' Case

Oxford University has apologised to the student who is accusing the institution of "discriminates against the poor" after claiming other universities employed "wealth tests".

Jane Elizabeth Sherwood, director of graduate admissions at the prestigious university, apologised for offering inaccurate evidence which appeared to demonstrate other institutions used wealth tests to select post-graduate students. Sherwood had originally told a court hearing other universities had the same practices as Oxford, the Guardian reported.

St Hugh's College, Oxford, does not dispute it denied Shannon a place because of his lack of finances

Oxford is currently being accused by Damien Shannon for "selecting by wealth". The 26-year-old won a place at St Hugh's College but the offer was withdrawn after he failed to prove he could fund his living costs. Shannon claims the college is discriminating gainst poorer students by requiring them to prove they can afford living expenses which he says are disproportionate.

Students have to prove they have access to £21,000 before they are allowed to take up their place at the university. They are selected and accepted based purely on academic ability but in order to enrol at Oxford, they must meet financial guarantee requirements.

Shannon, who took a job as a civil servant after failing to secure the university place, previously told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "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."

Hazel Blears MP told the Huffington Post UK: "This requirement for post-graduate students to have immediate access to £21,000 clearly discriminates against those from poorer backgrounds. If Oxford University is series about promoting social mobility, they should abandon this exclusive rule.”

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

Shannon believes the university's policy contravenes his human rights, citing the European Convention on Human Right's Article 6, which states the right of access to higher education.

"I am demanding lawful treatment, not special treatment."

In a blog for HuffPost UK, Southampton University student Amy Ashenden describes Shannon's lawsuit as "refreshing".

The student journalist, who was interviewed for a place at Oxford's Hertford College, says: "I respect [Shannon] for fighting their classist system, but I prefer to be part of a university that chose me based not on the contents of my bank account, but my mind.

"For an institution so rich in knowledge, it is very blind. St Hugh's barred [Shannon] from his initially offered place to study history because he wasn't born into a rich family that has £21,000 for fees and living costs ready to hand over."

She added: "Not to worry Shannon, there's plenty more Russell Group universities that would accept you; and they'll base their decision solely on learning capacity, not your wallet."

In an interview with HuffPost UK, Luke James, postgraduate studies officer for the National Union of Students, expressed his concern at the state of postgraduate funding.

"Students are being forced to study abroad because for many, studying in Britain is simply not a choice, he said. "Britain is going to start haemorrhaging students unless the government does something about it."

An Oxford University spokesperson said: "Oxford has been vocal about its wish that postgraduate admissions should be truly needs-blind, and works very hard to make progress towards this aim, both by fundraising for postgraduate support and lobbying the UK government to put in place measures to ensure that postgraduates, like undergraduates, have access to loans that ensure postgraduate study is a possibility for all."


We previously described Shannon as "suing" Oxford University. We have since amended the wording after Oxford said: "The only legal party in the lawsuit is St Hugh’s college, which is a separate independent legal entity."

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