Rejected mature student could bring bias case

May 1, 2008

The University of East Anglia is facing legal action for alleged indirect sex and age discrimination over an entry requirement for academic study within the past three years.

Arabella Beckett, a 31-year-old mother of two, has threatened to sue after she was rejected for a speech and language therapy degree course. She already has a degree in applied linguistics and had worked as a volunteer speech therapy assistant while raising her children, the Norwich Evening News reported.

The course information states that mature applicants must provide "evidence of the necessary study skills, normally in the form of academic achievement within the last three years, in an appropriate subject such as biology, human biology or psychology". The website does not say that school-leavers must have A levels in these subjects, although a "clear understanding of the profession" is stipulated.

John McMullen of Watson Burton solicitors said: "The applicant could argue that fewer women than men are able to meet the requirement for recent academic experience because of women's caring responsibilities. The university would then have to prove that the requirement is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim."

A university spokeswoman said prospective students had to "demonstrate some recent engagement with one of three subjects that are considered important as preparation for degree-level study in this subject".

Of the 20 admitted, she said, three quarters were mature students and seven were mothers. "All had undertaken academic study in the three years before applying to establish ... that they were ready to undertake ... study at degree level."

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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