• Friday, May 24, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Exclusive: University backs down after Eastern Eye campaign

Indian students given second chance to pass their assessment

Why and how did so many students from one country fail one particular module, asks Barnie Choudhury (Pic credit: Twitter/@dmuleicester)

By: Barnie Choudhury

DOZENS of Indian students, who accused a British university of racism, have thanked Eastern Eye for helping them win a second chance to pass their degree.

They contacted this newspaper after more than 80 of their number failed the same assessment as part of their master’s in engineering at De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester.

The students told Eastern Eye that they felt ignored and let down by DMU because they would not investigate why so many of them flopped.

But this week (17) a pro-vice chancellor, Professor Shushma Patel, indicated that the university had backed down.

“I can now confirm that the university has carried out an independent review in relation to this module,” she wrote to the learners in an email.

“The updated marks for the module have been released.

“If your updated marks show that you have failed this module, you will be permitted an exceptional additional resit opportunity with the same deadline as the resit PGT (postgraduate) deadline.

“If you are unable to meet this deadline you can apply to for an extension of up to two weeks or request a deferral which will be considered without evidence.

“The deadline for this resit is 8th September 2023 at 12.00 (midday) and the resit assignment will be same to (sic) the previous one.”

Inquiry call

The former Leicester East MP, Keith Vaz, led the fight on behalf of the students.

Keith Vaz (Photo by ANDREW YATES/AFP via Getty Images)

He called for an inquiry into the allegations of racism, discrimination and whether the university has broken competition and marketing rules – a serious charge.

“I am pleased that De Montfort has listened to the serious issues that have been presented to them and that they are allowing a reassessment of the results of so many of their students that have alleged racial discrimination,” the former minister told Eastern Eye.

“This demonstrates positive engagement quite different from the initial response which was a blanket denial.

“These students have suffered, and will continue to suffer, until these matters have been properly resolved.

“I want to thank Eastern Eye for its excellent coverage.

“The searing light of scrutiny has had a welcome effect.

“This is not over yet but we are on the way to a resolution.

“I warmly welcome this change of direction by DMU.

“Other universities please take note, overseas students need to be valued and treated fairly.”

Stress

Sources had previously said that 128 of the engineering students were Indians, making up 52 per cent of the entire pathway.

Of the 128, 89 or almost 70 per cent failed.

The failure rate varied from 18 and 85 per cent depending on the degree the students were undertaking.

For example, 63 of the 74 students (or 85 per cent) on the engineering management master’s pathway failed in their first attempt.

Many of the students we spoke to explained how anxious they were, and how grateful they were for Vaz’s determined stance and coverage by this newspaper.

“It’s a tight schedule for the students who have to resubmit the assignment because the submission deadline for this assignment is September 8, and the submission deadline for our dissertation is 9 September,” said one learner.

“But according to the email, it says that the university will provide extension or deferral to students for this resubmission without any evidence.

“The stress did have a lot of impact on us, we were running behind this for the last two and a half months.

“We couldn’t sleep or eat, all we could think of was going back to India without our master’s degree.

“But after months of stress, we are in a better place now, at least, we can sleep in peace.”

New revelations

But the episode is far from over because Eastern Eye has learnt of another development to this on-going story.

“I have had further concerns raised by students in the Advanced Biomedical Science department which I will send to the vice chancellor,” said Vaz.

DMU has consistently “refuted” (sic) any suggestion that the failures were down to race.

But even today it is unclear why so many students from India should fail one particular module.

Asked why the university acquiesced, a spokesperson said, “DMU has previously outlined the various aspects of quality assurance through which marks pass which include first and second marking, external examining, module and assessment boards and annual monitoring reports.

“Any of these stages can lead to changes in outcomes for students.

“In this case we have followed our quality assurance processes.”

Last month (19 July) Eastern Eye revealed how the Indian High Commission had written to the vice chancellor asking for an explanation.

A week later (27 July), the body which regulates universities, Office for Students (OfS) wrote to Vaz assuring him that it would investigate the handling of the learners’ complaints.

Serious questions

A local MP added his voice to the concerns raised by the Indian students and Vaz.

Leicester South MP, Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth, said, “I’ve long called for stronger links between our universities in the UK and India.

“Students from India make a hugely important contribution to cities like Leicester and I’m frankly astonished and deeply disappointed to hear of these problems.

“However, I’m pleased DMU, following representations from Keith Vaz, has responded but there remain serious questions as to how this situation arose in the first place.

“I shall be raising my concerns directly with the vice chancellor.

The shadow work and pensions secretary said he wanted to reassure international students that his city welcomed them.

“Despite these problems I want to reassure potential students that the UK, and especially Leicester, remains an attractive and welcoming destination for the brightest and best Indian students.

“I’ll continue to champion Indian students who study in Leicester and campaign to deepen our ties further in the future.

“Well done to Eastern Eye for pushing this cause on behalf of affected students.”

COMMENT

The lucrative cash cow bellowing for justice 

Forget the bluster and spin of DMU’s PR department, writes Barnie Choudhury, this was a dilemma of the university’s own making, and a lesson to other institutions.

How international students are treated is a serious problem facing UK universities.

So called higher education institutions (HEIs) know they cannot do without them.

The latest figures from Universities UK reveal that in the academic year 2021-22, they contributed almost £42 billion to the British economy.

In fact, many vice chancellors know their eye-watering fees subsidise those of UK students, whose tuition costs are capped at £9,250.

In short, the international student market is a lucrative cash cow.

But this disturbing story reveals how at least one UK university treats Indian students, whose only dreams were to take home a prestigious postgraduate degree from their former colonial masters.

DMU has steadfastly failed to answer two important related questions – why and how did so many students from one country fail one particular module?

Any lecturer expects the possibility of one, two or maybe three fails per year depending on the size of the class, but 89?

That should have raised alarm bells of the quality of teaching or of the marking criteria at any rate.

But even today DMU does not appear to accept it may have an institutional, systemic and structural problem.

Professor Katie Normington

What is also alarming is that the vice chancellor, Professor Katie Normington, has been glaringly absent throughout this debacle.

If I were a student, taking 30-minutes out of her busy day to meet my Indian colleagues and me – a small gesture – would signify that she cares about our welfare.

It’s what the former Europe minister and Leicester East MP, Keith Vaz, asked for – to no avail.

He too was ignored by the university leader – she wrote to him just once and never met him.

Vaz had little option but to name and shame DMU.

Therein lies a life lesson for HEIs – ignore the little person at your peril, but never forget he or she pays your wages, and you work for him or her.

In my honestly held opinion, after speaking to those affected, it was arrogant and tin-eared of the professor to remain hidden in her ivory tower letting colleagues handle a serious set of complaints.

Barnie Choudhury

If I were the parents of students from the Indian sub-continent, this is one university where I’d give a wide berth – I’d rather spend my £20,000 elsewhere, thank you.

And where were the DMU’s board of governors, whose job it is to ask questions of the executives who run this organisation on a day-to-day basis?

Dig superficially, two clicks of a keyboard in this day and age, and you notice another problem.

In a city where almost 60 per cent are non-white – 43 per cent of Leicester are Asian – only one of the 10 independent governor is of colour. Only two are female.

That lack of racial and gender diversity is simply appalling, and it is something that the city should be ashamed of.

How is it that in 2023, a university’s governing board can consider itself to be truly representative of the place it serves?

If I were the MPs and the city’s mayor, I’d be asking urgent questions.

It seems Leicester is multicultural in name only, rather than in deeds or leadership.

Related Stories

Videos

Mrunal Thakur on Dhamaka, experience of working with Kartik Aaryan,…
Nushrratt Bharuccha on Chhorii, pressure of comparison with Lapachhapi, upcoming…
Abhimanyu Dassani on Meenakshi Sundareshwar, how his mom Bhagyashree reacted…