Asian society attacks Oxford

May 4, 2001

Oxford University's Asian society is "deeply worried" about the university's attitude to race issues. Its view could be a blow for those trying to attract applicants from ethnic minorities.

The Oxford Majlis Asian Society, which claims to represent several hundred students, has expressed "outrage and sadness" over the university's handling of a race discrimination case.

Complaints of race discrimination by excluded student Nadeem Ahmed are to be heard at Oxford County Court this month.

The society has warned that the case has left ethnic minority students concerned about their vulnerability "in the hands of the university authorities".

The THES reported last October how Mr Ahmed, who was studying for an MPhil in medieval Arabic thought at Oxford's Oriental Institute, was denied the chance to continue his studies after failing an Arabic-language examination and a resit.

Mr Ahmed complained he had been inadequately prepared for the exam by his supervisor, Fritz Zimmermann, and that the tests were outside the university's procedures and were unfair.

The university senior proctor later agreed that both tests were "flawed as qualifying examinations". One was set by the supervisor, lacked independence, was not double-marked and was not conducted in accordance with exam regulations. The other breached regulations because Mr Ahmed had not been made sufficiently aware of its status.

Mr Ahmed won leave for a judicial review of Oxford's examination and assessment procedures, but the High Court threw out his case.

Mr Ahmed has also received a number of racist emails, which led to a police investigation and the arrest of two students.

In a letter to Oxford vice-chancellor Colin Lucas, the Asian society supported Mr Ahmed's discrimination case, saying: "We are disturbed by the events of the last 24 months and feel a sense of vulnerability in relation to our individual security in the hands of the university authorities."

The society criticised the delay in dealing with the case, the use of a test outside university procedures to remove a student and the apparent lack of any disciplinary action regarding the flawed exams.

It said: "The handling of (this) case should have provided the university with an opportunity to display transparency and equality, to 'do the right thing'. It worries us deeply to see our university fall so far behind modern standards."

Karim Virani, secretary of the society, said that Oxford was sending out the wrong messages if it wanted to encourage applicants from ethnic minorities.

The university said it valued diversity and kept equal opportunities policy under regular review.

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