Diplomatic row erupts on Westminster course

November 22, 2002

Westminster University's academy for diplomats is at the centre of its own diplomatic row after international students complained about poor facilities and teaching standards.

Postgraduate students from Westminster's Diplomatic Academy are demanding better library and study facilities, more student support and smaller classes at more convenient times.

The THES has been given a statement with the names of 47 students on the £7,000 diplomatic studies master's course. The students, from Asia, Africa and South America, say that they are getting a "raw deal" and that the course is a mere "cash cow".

Westminster said it would begin a "full investigation". As The THES went to press, a group of the students was due to meet the head of humanities, Keith Phillips, as part of the inquiry.

The website for the Diplomatic Academy of London describes Westminster as "a renowned and internationally recognised British university" with an "excellent" Quality Assurance Agency rating for its diplomacy and international relations courses.

Up to 100 aspiring diplomats and business people from around the world study there each year.

But this year's students say that they were seduced by "grandiose claims" made in the prospectus. They claim that with such large numbers of students, few get individual attention and lecture rooms are overcrowded. They say that the library lacks essential books and that students must compete with all undergraduates to use computing facilities.

The students say they were not made aware that classes would be in the evenings and claim that their part-time teachers "lack commitment".

One student said: "We have paid £7,000 in fees, and most pay £4,200 a year for accommodation. But it seems the main entry criterion is that if you can pay the tuition fees, they'll take you. Many of us feel trapped. We cannot get our fees back and cannot tell our families, who have guaranteed loans. The government should have a mechanism to ensure that international students get value for money and not a raw deal."

A Westminster spokesman said: "The MA in diplomatic studies has been running for about 20 years and has just seen 65 full-time and 12 part-time students enrol for the 2002 academic year.

"We have received no formal complaint about this course, but we did receive an anonymous fax... listing a number of grievances. The university does not know how many students have complaints but will nonetheless launch a full investigation into the issues that have been raised."

He said it was unfortunate that the students had not made use of the internal complaints procedures to establish the facts.

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