Stirling accused of racial bias

May 3, 1996

The National Union of Students Scotland and Central Scotland Racial Equality Council are investigating Stirling University's treatment of an Ethiopian research student who failed a PhD.

Wondimu Mekonnen, an accountancy lecturer at Addis Abbaba University, went to Stirling in 1988 to take a masters course, and then went on to a PhD. He claims he was given inadequate support following a number of difficulties including the departure of his original supervisor, the ending of his Ethiopian government funding, and the theft of his thesis from a university locker.

The university has now told Mr Mekonnen that his appeal against failing his PhD has not been upheld, which leaves him facing deportation in 13 weeks since he is no longer classed as a student.

But Stirling students' association, which was this week holding talks on the case with NUS, is arguing that the appeals procedure was flawed, notably in not allowing Mr Mekonnen or a student representative to speak to the appeals board.

"At the end of the day, it is not for me or NUS to say this person deserves a PhD, but we can say the university should be following procedures correctly," said Stirling student president Graham Mannerings.

An NUS spokesman said: "This is not standard procedure for an academic appeal, indeed, it is debatable whether it constitutes an appeal system or not. On the face of it, it would seem that without the right to be heard, the procedure does not conform to natural justice."

A spokeswoman for the CSREC said it was gathering information about Stirling's treatment of overseas students, and would shortly decide whether an investigation into racial bias was necessary.

Universities had to take responsibility for overseas students, who were paying substantial fees, she said. "You can't treat overseas students who come here just like home students who have a support system."

Stirling's principal, Andrew Miller, said the university had offered to talk to the students' association about the appeals procedure, but that Mr Mekonnen's case was now closed. He was confident that staff did not indulge in racial bias. "The university is strongly against racial bias or harassment and any evidence of this will be investigated thoroughly," he said.

Mr Mekonnen said he believed he was a victim of racism, but even if this was not accepted by the university, he had ample evidence of institutional negligence.

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