Legal aid granted to US ex-student in battle over revoked scholarship

Sanaz Raji given funding for judicial review in lengthy dispute with University of Leeds, but deportation may thwart her bid

September 11, 2014

Source: Ian Forrester

Justice: Sanaz Raji says that deporting her would infringe her rights to a fair trial

A former postgraduate student has been granted legal aid to pursue her long-running battle with the University of Leeds over the revocation of her scholarship – but she will lose the funding unless the Home Office postpones her deportation to the US.

As previously reported in Times Higher Education international student Sanaz Raji was awarded a three-year scholarship by Leeds’ Institute of Communications Studies (now known as the School of Media and Communications) in 2009. But her scholarship was revoked in August 2011 on the grounds of “insufficient academic progress”.

Ms Raji appealed in May 2012, contending that she had been given inadequate supervision in her doctoral studies, but her arguments were rejected by the university in April 2013. In March 2014, an appeal to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator was dismissed.

She has now been granted legal aid to apply for and – if it is granted – to pursue a judicial review of her case. She said she hopes that having been granted funding at a time when the legal aid budget is under pressure might signal to the courts that her application has merit. Ms Raji also argued that an important principle is at stake, namely the right of international students to access the same legal recourse against their universities as home students.

“If you accept non-EU students into the country and don’t allow them to…take on their institutions, there really isn’t any fairness,” she said.

However, since legal aid is available only to UK residents, Ms Raji will lose her eligibility unless she can overturn the Home Office’s intention to deport her following the expiry of her student visa at the end of 2013. Three subsequent applications to extend her visa until her case against Leeds is resolved were unsuccessful, and a fourth is pending.

Ms Raji, who has no legal representation in her fight against deportation, is arguing that her removal from the UK would infringe her right to a fair trial under the Human Rights Act.

She is now living on friends’ couches after failing to fight off eviction from her student flat earlier this year, despite receiving legal aid for that challenge. She has been told by her lawyer that it could be another six months before any judicial review is heard, but she has no intention of giving up.

“It is unbearable and not something anyone should have to go through,” Ms Raji said. “But I have a fighting spirit. If I have hung on this long I would like to see it through in its entirety.”

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