University of Chichester accused of race discrimination after halting black history course

The University of Chichester's Dome building
The students claim that they had gone through the university’s internal complaints procedure but had not reached a resolution - Andrew Hasson/Alamy Stock Photo

A university has been accused of race discrimination by students for suspending a black history course.

A group of 14 students at the University of Chichester have threatened legal action after its masters by research (MRes) history of Africa and the African diaspora course was closed to new entrants last summer because of the costs of running it.

The course leader, Prof Hakim Adi, was also made redundant by the university. He is the first African-British historian to become a professor of history in the UK, and was shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize last year.

The students claim that they had gone through the university’s internal complaints procedure but had not reached a resolution on their accusation that the departure of Prof Adi had left them without adequate supervision to complete their studies.

They also allege indirect race or age discrimination, claiming that they were subjected to less favourable treatment compared with students on courses where the cohort was not majority African Caribbean or black, or was younger than them.

The students have employed the law firm Leigh Day to pursue a civil claim alleging that the university is in breach of contract and it issued a pre-action letter on their behalf on Feb 15.

University ‘clearly discriminated’

Jacqueline McKenzie, a partner at Leigh Day, said: “This sudden decision by the University of Chichester to close down this unique course has stopped our clients’ academic careers in their tracks.

“On top of that, the university has made an eminent and highly respected black professor of African history in the UK, who was last year nominated for the Wolfson History Prize, redundant at short notice.

“In our clients’ view, the University of Chichester has clearly discriminated against them and breached its contract with them in its handling of this process.

“They are urging it to reverse this decision and ensure that they can resume their studies as soon as possible.”

A university spokesman said that the claims made on behalf of the students were “inaccurate and misleading”.

She said: “For clarity, the MRes programme referred to has not been ‘terminated’ for existing students but is only suspended to new applicants pending a review.

“PhD students study individual programmes of research and should not be conflated with the MRes programme.

“The university is committed to ensuring that all existing students are able to complete their studies successfully and that alternative teaching and supervisory arrangements are in place for these students.”

Studies ‘completely disrupted’

In a linked case, the Black Equity Organisation (BEO) is also bringing legal action and has issued a judicial review of the university’s actions.

Kehinde Adeogun, the director of legal services at BEO, said: “Suspending the course without consultation when the issues are still prevalent decreases the opportunity for change, the aim of which is to see the effective inclusion of black history into the curriculum that is taught and studied in UK schools, especially in the context of key debates around decolonising the curriculum.”

Prof Adi said: “As a result of the MRes we encouraged many more black students to embark on PhD research.

“We established one of the largest cohorts of black postgraduate history students in the country.

“As a result of the measures taken by the University of Chichester, these students have been left without appropriate supervision and their studies have been completely disrupted.”

Jabari Osaze, an MRes student, said: “Chichester University should have focused its efforts on recruiting more students like me but instead it seems they undervalued the programme.

“They have treated their students and the world-renowned expert historian who ran the programme extremely poorly.

“They are now offering academic support to MRes students’ guidance by scholars who are not trained in the history of Africa and the African diaspora.

“It has been painful to be disregarded in this manner.”