The University of Hertfordshire has been forced to allow an Orthodox Jewish student to sit a final exam a day early under threat of legal action for religious discrimination.
Anthony Julius, a lawyer from the solicitors Mishcon de Reya who represented the student, said educational institutions lag behind the private sector when it comes to recognising discrimination.
Joel Raivid, a final-year psychology student at Hertfordshire, sought Mr Julius's advice after the university insisted that he sit an exam on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath.
When the exam schedule was set, the student approached Rabbi Gavin Broder, the Jewish student chaplain for London. The rabbi suggested that the university allow Mr Raivid to sit the exam a day early and be chaperoned by the rabbi until the other students sat the exam the following morning.
The psychology department rejected this proposition. It suggested instead that Mr Raivid take the exam during the university's resit period for those who had failed the exam the first time around.
Hertfordshire backed down and agreed to the rabbi's proposal after Mr Julius began legal proceedings. Mr Julius said: "Scheduling the exam on a Saturday put Joel and other Orthodox Jews at a particular disadvantage when compared with other students. Also, the university's decision could not be justified by reference to the minimal impact that taking Joel's religious beliefs into consideration would have on its examination timetable."
He added: "Were Joel in employment, this issue would not have arisen - so familiar are employers with their obligations under the legislation. Sadly, educational institutions (which are equally bound by the anti-discrimination legislation) have failed to learn their lesson."
A Hertfordshire spokesperson said: "We are continually seeking best practice, and our research suggests that chaperoning individual students overnight is not common practice in the sector. However, we made the decision to accommodate the student's needs in the way requested following expert advice."