Damien Shannon, 26, is suing St Hugh’s College, Oxford for “selecting by wealth” when accepting students for their postgraduate courses. Mr Shannon claims he was rejected by the college because he did not have the adequate supporting funds, despite gaining a place to study an MSc in economic and social history.


Oxford has admitted barring Mr Shannon for financial reasons, but has stated that it is essential that these costs are met to ensure the completion of the required studies.

The fees are high. At £21,082 Oxford requires various assurances that funding will be available to pay the fee if it is to accept a postgraduate student. Is this an active attempt to prevent poorer students from gaining a place at the university as Mr Shannon claims?

It seems the fashion to criticise Oxbridge for its high percentage of public school students, and strange ancient traditions. But refusing entry for a student who could not provide proof of a large amount of readily available funds seems, at first glance, quite hard evidence of snobbery.

The debate reached the House of Commons, and received a response from our very own lecturer from the school of International Development, Dr Alexander Flynn. As a former St Hugh’s student, Dr Flynn criticised the policy, stating it clearly amounted to “financial discrimination.” Yet the fact remains that many students may have to sadly terminate their postgraduate courses due to a lack of financial support.

As unfortunate as this may be, this prevents other students from gaining a place, who would have otherwise completed the course. This applies particularly in Oxford’s case, where a limited amount of places will be highly competitive.

It appears that this practice is not confined to Oxford. Amongst many other universities, the University of Liverpool can request evidence of funding for some postgraduate courses, as is the same practice at the University of Westminster. It seems Oxford has provided a shield for the rest of the universities when it comes to the postgraduate issue of “wealth discrimination” – but what about that giant fee?

It seems to be absent from most minds that a high level of education may come at a cost. It would be reasonable if the higher that level went, the higher the cost went with it. UEA charges the maximum £9,000 for its undergraduate courses, but nobody claims it is discriminating against poorer students because Southampton Solent University charges £7,800. The qualification is exactly the same, after all.

Admittedly, the “leave Oxbridge alone” rhetoric is probably more appropriate to be made under a bed sheet in a YouTube video. Nevertheless, the assessment of ‘wealth’ serves only to ensure as many students can complete the postgraduate courses Oxford provides. Legal proceedings are not really required for that to be established.