London: The University of Oxford has been forced to review its post-graduate admissions policy after it was accused by a student of discriminating against the poor. Damien Shannon, 26, had sued St Hugh's College at the world-renowned university, for "selecting students on the basis of wealth and excluding those not in possession of it". "St Hugh's College and Damien Shannon are pleased to announce that they have resolved the dispute between them, and that the court proceedings in Manchester County Court are at an end with immediate effect," the university said in a statement issued on Friday.
It will now re-examine the policy under which its colleges select students on their ability to prove they have the up-front resources to pay tens of thousands of pounds for both tuition fees and living expenses. "On completion of the review, recommendations will be put to the University's Council and the Conference of Colleges for consideration. It is anticipated that the process will be completed by September 2013," the university statement added.
The review will help counter allegations of elitism at one of the world's best known educational institutions, which prides itself on promoting academic merit. Shannon had been unable to take up his offer at the university last year after it found he did not have 12,900 pounds living costs.
In an email to students, St Hugh's College said the college and the History Faculty of the University of Oxford have jointly made available to Shannon a place on the one-year MSc in Economic and Social History, the course for which he originally applied. "Both parties have agreed to pay their own costs and no moneys have changed hands," it read.
St Hugh's, the alma mater of Myanmarese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, had claimed in court papers that the test of a student's financial health was in place to ensure students were able to complete their courses without suffering financial difficulty and anxiety. It said in its defence that the inability to meet the financial guarantee, which was formalised across the university in 2010, did not fall "disproportionately within" the lower socio-economic groups.
However, the director of graduate admissions at Oxford University had to apologise to the judge hearing the case after erroneously claiming that other universities had the same admissions practices. It is believed negotiations between Shannon and the university's lawyers and admissions office started last month and were finalised on Friday.
The legal action was revealed by the 'Observer' in a report earlier this year, which also found that around 1,000 students a year turn down post-graduate places won at Oxford because of the high financial demands involved. This amounts to 15 per cent of the 7,500 students offered a place, according to the admissions office.
Hazel Blears, the former Labour cabinet minister and Shannon's constituency MP for Salford and Eccles, said she hoped the case would lead to a fairer policy and establish means-tested scholarships for students from less affluent backgrounds. "Damien has worked incredibly hard in pushing for this because, like me, he believes that insisting students must prove they have 13,000 pounds towards living costs is deeply unfair, especially for those from poorer backgrounds," she said.