Student claims discrimination

Jonathan Laurence and Amy Blackburn 25 October 2007

A former St John’s College medical student has launched legal proceedings against the School of Clinical Medicine, claiming that his application to the school was affected by racial discrimination.

The student, who asked not to be named, is working with the formal backing of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

He has claimed that there were procedural irregularities in the course of his application, made in 2004.

He told The Cambridge Student (TCS) that he was “not even given a clinical school application form” initially, despite scoring a first in his Tripos examinations and being deemed fit to practise. He added that “no explanation” was given for the absence of the form.

According to the Clinical School’s website, all third year Cambridge medics looking to enter the standard course “are routinely sent an application form”.

The student claimed that he only got hold of the form by appealing to the Senior Proctor, after his college seemed to ignore his informal complaints.

He also alleged that even when he was finally able to fill the form out, he was rejected without being given an interview. He also claimed that when he wrote to the clinical school they “wouldn’t even respond” to his email.

The former John’s student told TCS that when he looked for help from his college’s tutors’ council, he was told to take his complaint elsewhere.

“The college would give me no reason”, he said. “They just said that it wasn’t their problem and I should go to the Clinical School.”

He told TCS that his relations with college had previously been good, saying that he “had never been involved in any kind of student misbehaviour.”

He said that he had “followed the internal complaints procedure” at every stage of his enquiries, and that he only decided to take his grievance to the Commission for Racial Equality (now a part of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights) when he found that a Caucasian student in the same situation as him had been admitted.

“My case was quite strong”, the student told TCS. “The CRE have a set of criteria that they apply, and my case met the criteria.”

The student repeatedly affirmed that he feels that he has at no point in the past three years received an adequate explanation for any of the questions that he has raised by his application – his only recent communication from his college is a letter from the Senior Tutor stating that the college considers the matter closed.

St. John’s College Senior Tutor Dr. Matthias Dörrzapf told TCS that he felt that college authorities “did everything we could to ensure that” the complainant was “treated like every other student”.

Dr. Dörrzapf also added that he thought that the college “was very helpful” to the student.

The problems with his application have left the student “in limbo” f as he is forced to stay in friends’ accommodation while his case is resolved.

“I don’t have social security, and I’m no longer in college accommodation”, the student added. “I have no scholarship now and no money, so I’m in debt, really bad debt.”

In spite of all of his problems, he expressed faith that his case will turn out positively, though. “My only hope is for something to come out of this case”, he told TCS.

“Basically, I think this will set a precedent for all the institutions, major ones like Cambridge and Oxford, to stop them behaving badly like this.”

This is not the first time that the medical school has faced allegations of racial bias in its applications procedure. In 1998 the British Medical Journal published an article claiming that there was “significant evidence” that candidates from ethnic minority groups are disadvantaged in medical school selection.

The University declined to comment on the case on the grounds that a claim had been served on the University but that it had not subsequently been pursued.

Jonathan Laurence and Amy Blackburn