Former Leeds student loses appeal against removal of PhD scholarship

Sanaz Raji criticises eight-month wait for decision from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator

March 27, 2014

A former PhD student who says that she has been battling deportation, eviction and poverty while awaiting a decision from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator has had her appeal against the removal of her scholarship rejected.

As previously reported in Times Higher Education, US student Sanaz Raji was awarded a three-year doctoral scholarship in 2009 by the University of Leeds’ Institute of Communications Studies. But the scholarship was revoked in August 2011 on the grounds that she had made insufficient academic progress.

After exhausting Leeds’ internal procedures for appealing against the decision (arguing, centrally, that her supervision had been inadequate), Ms Raji appealed to the OIA last July. She argued that the university’s decision had been unreasonable and that it had failed to follow its own procedures during her appeal, most significantly by not arranging a meeting between her and the assessment panel.

On 14 March, the OIA dismissed her claim. It said that she was given a “reasonable opportunity” to put her case to the panel, and the university “carefully considered” her concerns about the suitability of her supervisors, for whose alleged bias against her there was no evidence.

But the body declined to revisit matters of “academic judgement”, such as whether she had made satisfactory progress or whether her supervisors had the necessary expertise.

Ms Raji dismissed the judgement as “ridiculous”. “It is saying the university can basically make up rules and procedures as they go along,” she said, adding that in her view the OIA had swallowed Leeds’ version of events “word for word”.

She also criticised the eight months it had taken the OIA to reach the verdict. During that time she said she lived on charity, battling Leeds’ attempts to evict her from her student flat and seeking an emergency extension of her student visa, which expired at the end of 2013.

Despite repeated communications from her solicitor stressing the urgency of her case, Ms Raji said that the OIA had been unable to indicate at any point when it might issue a decision. She said that the stress of the situation had probably contributed to her recent hospitalisation with a condition called functional limb weakness.

A spokeswoman for the OIA said Ms Raji’s case had been “carefully reviewed”. She said cases typically took three to six months but the body fast-tracked them when asked, or when a student “appears to be mentally ill or extremely distressed, or where we are made aware of pressing reasons outside the student’s control”.

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