Student to take Oxford to court

October 6, 2000

The High Court is to review Oxford University's examination and assessment procedures after a legal victory for an Indian student who claims discrimination.

Postgraduate student Nadeem Ahmed has been granted leave for a judicial review of the university's decision to exclude him from the second year of an MPhil course after he was made to sit two flawed and illegitimate examinations, when other candidates were treated differently.

Mr Ahmed's lawyer, Sadiq Khan, told The THES that the case was of huge public interest. "If a university has proper assessment procedures, then there is very little scope for discrimination on any grounds. Flawed procedures allow for discrimination."

Mr Khan said the case was unprecedented. "I am not aware of any student who has successfully proceeded to a substantial judicial review against the University of Oxford or any other university."

Mr Ahmed, who has been granted legal aid, enrolled on the two-year MPhil in medieval Arabic thought at Oxford's Oriental Institute in October 1998, with a view to converting to a PhD, following a degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. He was not allowed to continue after he failed a qualifying exam in Arabic language skills at the end of his first year and a subsequent resit.

Mr Ahmed complained to the senior proctor in October last year that he had been inadequately prepared for the end-of-year assessment by his supervisor, Fritz Zimmermann, and that both tests were "improper and unfair". Senior proctor Richard Jenkyns agreed that both tests were indeed "flawed as qualifying examinations".

The first test was set by the supervisor and "therefore not independent", Mr Jenkyns found. It was not double-marked and was not conducted in accordance with the exam regulations. The second test, Mr Jenkyns said, was in breach of examination regulations, as Mr Ahmed had been led to understand that it was an "informal" test and was not made properly aware of its status, despite requests for clarification. Complaints about supervision have not yet been fully addressed.

Mr Jenkyns reinstated Mr Ahmed on the register of graduate students and arranged for a third test, which has yet to take place. Both of Mr Ahmed's postgraduate colleagues had been allowed to progress on the basis of the first flawed test.

Mr Jenkyns said that as the second test was "fully satisfactory in academic terms", Mr Ahmed "should take thought about whether this MPhil course is best suited to his interests and abilities".

The university said: "As this is a matter before the court, the university cannot comment on any aspect of this specific case."

The High Court will review the university's decisions in a full judicial review hearing early next month. Mr Ahmed has begun separate proceedings for discrimination under the Race Relations Act in the Oxford County Court.

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