University of Chichester responds to 'inaccurate and misleading' race discrimination allegations

The University of Chichester has refuted claims that it terminated a groundbreaking programme in the history of Africa and the African Diaspora.
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A group of students have launched a discrimination case against the university, alleging discrimination and breach of contract.

The 14 students were all studying on the Masters by Research (MRes), History of Africa and the African Diaspora course or conducting research for a PhD.

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According to law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the students, the course was ‘unique in Europe’ and attracted people from all over the world, as well as many from the UK.

University of Chichester. Photo: National WorldUniversity of Chichester. Photo: National World
University of Chichester. Photo: National World

A spokesperson for Leigh Day said: “It was led by Professor Hakim Adi, one of the UK’s pre-eminent historians and the first African-British historian to become a Professor of History in the UK. Professor Adi was shortlisted for the Wolfson History prize in 2023.

“Despite the course’s highly respected reputation, it was suspended without warning in July 2023 with the university stating that the programme was no longer economically viable. Professor Adi was made redundant shortly afterwards.

"The move came as a complete shock to the students and staff, as well as fellow historians, teachers, activists, and advocates of the importance of African history. Professor Adi’s redundancy is being challenged.”

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After ‘failing to achieve a resolution’ through the university’s internal complaints procedure, the 14 students are now bringing legal action. Their civil claim alleges that the university discriminated against them and is in breach of contract as a result of both the action and the process.

In a statement to this newspaper, the university strongly denied the allegations.

A spokesperson stated: "The University of Chichester refutes the press release as both inaccurate and misleading.

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

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"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."

Leigh Day issued a letter before action on the students’ behalf on Thursday, February 15.

‘In a linked case’, the Black Equity Organisation is also bringing legal action and ‘issued a Judicial Review of the university’s actions’, last month.

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The students’ case has seen a motion being tabled in the House of Commons. An online petition gained over 14,000 signatures and an open letter has been signed by more than 300 academics and teaching staff from history courses in the USA and Europe.

In the letter to the University of Chichester, lawyers suggest the rationale ‘appears to be based’ on the premise that the MRes in the History of Africa and the African Diaspora ‘does not recruit enough students to justify the continued existence’ of Professor Adi’s post.

Leigh Day partner Jacqueline McKenzie 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.

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"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 sure that they can resume their studies as soon as possible.”

Kehinde Adeogun, director of legal service at Black Equity Organisation, said: “The impact of the University’s decision was ‘short-sighted’ and ‘reaches beyond the students’ on the MRes and those studying for a PhD.

She added: “The reason for including the course in its postgraduate programme was as an acknowledgement of the lack of teaching, research and learning in the history of Africa and the African Diaspora.

"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.”

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Professor Hakim Adi said he helped to establish ‘one of the largest cohorts’ of Black postgraduate history students in the country.

“As a result of the MRes we encouraged many more black students to embark on PhD research,” he added.

“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, MRes student, said: “I am greatly dismayed that the University of Chichester has decided to close the Masters of Research in the History of Africa and the African Diaspora programme. 

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"As a student in the United States, I recognise just how unique the programme was. 

"I have spoken to large numbers of African Americans who would have been interested in enrolling in the programme. 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.”  

The students are crowdfunding for their legal claim.