Dundee University is facing growing calls to refund fees to a blind international student who has been told he must leave the UK.
Bamidele Chika Agbakuribe, 36, who moved to Dundee with his four school-aged children in 2016 to work towards a PhD, believes the termination of his studies was “stage managed” by the university after he complained about a lack of support.
Mr Agbakuribe said he has hundreds of emails to and from Dundee University which he says back up allegations management repeatedly failed to provide reasonable adjustments or address concerns about malfunctioning screen-reading equipment.
Dundee University has insisted the decision to terminate Mr Agbakuribe’s studies “was made solely on the basis of a lack of academic progress against a background of extensive and dedicated support”.
It is understood the dossier, which is 74-pages long, shows he had been without a supervisor for four months and had not had a face-to-face meeting for nine months at the time of a crucial upgrade review that led to the termination of his studies.
Mr Agbakuribe reached out to disability charities in a desperate attempt to purchase a laptop with the necessary screen-reading software after wrangling with the university for months to provide an adequate version.
He said: “As a totally blind man, I rely on screen reading software. The screen reading software (JAWS) failed constantly, as hundreds of emails between myself and the university show.
“The replacement version they gave me was a 40-minute demo version. It reached the point that I tried to purchase JAWS from the RNIB.”
A number of leading figures in Scottish further education have pledged their support to the Nigerian researcher and a fundraising appeal set up on his behalf has raised more than £6,000 in just three days.
UCU Scotland has called for a settlement between Mr Agbakuribe and the university to be urgently agreed.
President elect Carlo Morelli said: “It is not good enough for a public institution to simply ignore 74 pages of evidence of discrimination and their silence only lends support for the view that the university has something to hide.”
Robina Qureshi, director of Positive Action in Housing, a homelessness and human rights charity, has been advocating for Mr Agbakuribe.
She said: “This is not about academic ability. A 74-page dossier of emails backs up Bamidele’s claims that Dundee University failed to provide him adequate supervision or reasonable adjustments that he is entitled to under the Equality Act 2010.”
Mr Agbakuribe has been told he must leave the UK after his student status was torn up by the university, despite selling his home in Nigeria to meet the £30,000 fees.
A complaint is currently being considered by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO), the final stage for complaints against universities in Scotland.
Local politicians Joe FitzPatrick and Chris Law have written to home secretary Sajid Javid urging him to urgently intervene to ensure Mr Agbakuribe is allowed to remain in the UK until the process is concluded.
A spokesman for Dundee University said the dossier of emails “does not contain new information that materially changes the case from that considered by the university” and confirmed its position remains unchanged.
He added: “Mr Agbakuribe’s studies were terminated, which was an academic decision, and a subsequent complaint made by the student was not upheld.”
Second student comes forward with concerns
A second blind international student who studied at Dundee University has come forward to express concerns about her experience.
The woman, who attended the institution in the academic year 2017-18, moved to the UK from Jordan but said her “very bad” experience at Dundee University meant she would “never” recommend it to another student.
She previously studied and achieved MLitt and PhD degrees at Aberdeen University, praising the Granite City institution for providing support and making hundreds of books available in a usable format.
When she later signed up for a management course at Dundee University, she expected similar attitudes to accessibility but was left sorely disappointed.
“Contrary to all expectation, it was a terrible experience and resulted in me withdrawing from the course,” she said.
“The course tutor was very unhelpful, the materials were very inaccessible and even the disability support office was extremely slow in replying or taking any action.
“I have waited for two months and they could not provide me with any of my requirements. They even said that the university do not have enough resources to provide me with what I need. Unfortunately, it was a very stressful experience.”
It is understood the student did not register a formal complaint while studying at Dundee University.
A university spokesperson said the matter relates to “a completely different set of circumstances that are not related to Mr Agbakuribe’s case”.
He added: “The student was offered support but chose to withdraw from their course after a short period at the university in autumn 2017.”