Prince is given special favour

December 8, 2000

An associate college of Oxford University has admitted that the Crown Prince of Brunei received special treatment during the two years he studied at Oxford.

The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies said it gave "one-off" private tuition for two terms in 1995 to Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, son of the sultan of Brunei, to assess whether he would be able to study for an undergraduate course, after a request from Brunei.

The centre, which aims to promote understanding of Islam through advanced study and usually takes only postdoctoral students, has strong links with the sultan of Brunei, who is one of its main funders.

David Browning, registrar of the centre, said: "When we were asked could we please give an assessment of his son, we thought it was the least we could do."

He said the crown prince did not have a degree already and added: "I certainly don't think he was up to admission for a full undergraduate degree."

Instead, it was suggested that he enter the foreign service programme, run by the university for postgraduates who are usually recommended by their governments and employed in their country's diplomatic service. The one-year course costs about £10,000.

After his time at the Islamic centre, the crown prince matriculated for admission to the programme and became a member of Magdalen College. Dr Browning said he "excelled" in his work there and graduated in 1997 with a certificate in diplomatic studies.

This week, the Foreign Office strongly denied claims that it had requested special treatment for Prince Azim, another of the sultan's sons, who had applied to read law at Magdalen as an undergraduate.

A spokeswoman said the Foreign Office had telephoned the college to check if the prince's application had been received, but this was common procedure with applications from members of overseas royal families. She said: "They told us it was unlikely to be successful and that was the end of the matter as far as we are concerned."

Anthony Smith, president of Magdalen, said it was helpful if the Foreign Office telephoned about students who might need extra security.

"I have never felt any pressure in the past and I don't feel any pressure now," he said. "If someone had telephoned to put pressure on the college, we would be aware of it and I am not."

Final decisions on undergraduate applications to the college will be made in the next few weeks.

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