More than 350 people, including several academics, have signed a petition protesting against the University of Leeds’ treatment of an international postgraduate student.
The university’s Institute of Communications Studies (ICS) awarded US student Sanaz Raji a three-year scholarship to begin her doctoral studies in September 2009. But it was revoked in August 2011 because of “insufficient academic progress”, forcing her to suspend her studies.
Ms Raji said her problems began when her intended supervisor left Leeds and she was given a replacement who lacked specialist knowledge of her research field. She claims that the ICS refused repeated requests to give her a different tutor.
She said that she had not received Leeds’ recommended 10 supervisory meetings a year and argued that a period of inactivity after she broke her foot had not been taken into account in assessing her progress.
Ms Raji also claims that she suffered racial discrimination when she was allegedly asked during one meeting whether English was her first language.
She appealed against the revocation of her scholarship in May 2012, but Leeds rejected it last month.
“The message the [institute] sends to international students is that their education, their well-being, even their health is of lesser importance than that of home students,” she writes on the petition, posted on the Change.org website.
Ms Raji said she would take the case to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator if her application for legal aid was granted.
The letter explaining Leeds’ decision for rejecting her appeal, taken by dean of postgraduate research studies Paul Harrison, says that a broken foot should not have delayed Ms Raji’s studies by “more than a couple of weeks”.
Nor was it necessary for doctoral supervisors to be experts in the field: “We expect the candidate to be leading the project by midway through the second year. Hence, the candidate themselves becomes the technical expert in their project and leaves their supervisors behind.”
In a statement, Leeds criticised Ms Raji for posting a petition online before going to the OIA and said it was “deeply saddened” that staff and students in the ICS “are being subjected to derogatory comments”.
A spokeswoman said that all its academic appeals “strive to be fair”.
She added: “In this particular case, the appellant’s scholarship had been withdrawn because of insufficient academic progress, and we are confident that all university procedures were followed scrupulously.”
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