Biased against poor? Salford student sues Oxford university for refusing application on financial grounds

By Michael Kelleher

A Salford student is suing a prestigious Oxford university for withdrawing his placement offer, claiming they are discriminating against people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Damien Shannon, 26, decided to sue St Hugh’s College for refusing him a place after he could not prove he had the £21,000 required for fees and living costs.

Mr Shannon, who was to study economic and social history, claims the university have purposely put these requirements in place to exclude poorer students.

“It is my contention that the effect of the financial conditions of entry is to select students on the basis of wealth, and to exclude those not in possession of it,” he said.

“In particular, the requirement for evidence of funds for living costs has a discriminatory effect.”

Mr Shannon, of Velour Close, took out a £10,000 loan which more than covered his fees but was unable to demonstrate access to the £12,900 required for living costs.

He contends that he could live on £9,000 a year and supplement this with a part-time job but St Hugh’s refused to take this into account.

The £12,900 figure included £7,250 towards 52 weeks living costs but Mr Shannon claimed he had negotiated a £3,000 tenancy agreement.

Mr Shannon is representing himself in a civil action through Manchester County Court.

He argues that the university have breached Section 6 of the Human Rights Act, on the right to education.

He is being backed in his action by Labour MP for Salford and Eccles Hazel Blears, who has criticised the university’s stringent admission requirements.

Latest UCAS figures show that just 2.6 per cent of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged areas like Salford attend universities like Oxford which charge the highest level of fees.

This figure stands at 21 per cent in better off areas and Mrs Blears feels this puts students from Salford at a huge disadvantage.

“Oxford University’s demands for a guarantee on living costs are deeply unfair,” she said.

“They will price gifted students out of doing these courses and our country will lose out on some really talented individuals.

“It is ludicrous that any student deemed to be of sufficient academic merit to attend one of the world’s best universities is deemed incapable of budgeting to ensure they have enough money to live on.

Mrs Blears feels that if students are intelligent enough to gain academic entry into one of the world’s most prestigious universities, then they are capable of working out their own budget.

“Even in an expensive city like Oxford, a student can live on far less than £13,000 a year with some careful budgeting,” she said.

“In any case, living costs should be a student’s personal responsibility and many students get part-time jobs such as bar work to help make ends meet.

“The university’s former vice chancellor, Dr John Hood, is on record as saying there are many talented students who are put off applying to Oxford because they think they cannot afford to study there.

“He described that as a myth, but this case shows that discrimination against prospective students from poorer backgrounds remains a reality.”

Picture courtesy of babasteve, with thanks.

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