Ex-Leeds student faces deportation amidst scholarship row

A former student faces imminent deportation after her via expired today during an unresolved battle with Leeds University over her “wrongly revoked” PhD scholarship.

Sanaz Raji has been embroiled in a funding dispute with the university since July 2011. If her visa is not extended, she will be unable to stay to fight her case.

Sanaz began studying at Leeds in October 2009. She was excited about her studies, having heard very good things about the Institute of Communication Studies at Leeds University. Her experience, however, shows otherwise.

The problems began early on. Her original supervisor left the department that autumn, and Sanaz found little academic compatibility with her replacement supervisor. She reports being denied a change of supervisors “three times in two years”.

“I did not want to rock the boat, I just wanted to focus on my studies,” she told Roar!.

Unfortunately, this would not be possible in the long-term. In November 2010, Sanaz broke her right ankle, rendering her bed-bound and unable to work as a teaching assistant, which she had done since joining the university.

“The supervisory team sent threatening e-mails indicating that if I did not get well by a certain period of time, they would suspend my PhD.”

A meeting with her supervisors was called for January. Sanaz was still on crutches at this time.

“The whole atmosphere was very hostile. I felt sick. I was asked about my mental health. I was made to feel very uncomfortable.”

Sanaz reports that no concerns were raised about her PhD progress at this meeting.

Though still experiencing ankle pain, Sanaz began wearing a partial cast and was able to return to work. The next few months were very productive, and culminated in her being invited to give a paper at a prestigious conference at the Kadir Has University in Istanbul.

Nothing could have prepared her for what happened when she returned to the UK.

“Another meeting was called. My supervisor expressed concerns that I would not complete my PhD within three years. I was told that my scholarship had been terminated in a further meeting only a week later.”

Sanaz claims that the university did not follow their own set procedures.

“They did not warn me of concerns with my academic progress. I did not have the requisite meeting with the Postgraduate Research Tutor and my supervisor, in which objectives are supposed to be set in case of any concerns. It is the ICS, not me, that has not followed the rules.”

Sanaz could not afford to self-fund her studies. She didn’t know what to do.

“I had to get myself back on track before making any fundamental decisions, but I only had enough money for two more weeks. There is this perception that international students are rich. I live on £20 a week.”

In fact, her status as an international student has not made things easier: “There is very little support for international students. We don’t factor in.”

She continues, “This is part of a much wider issue. Look at Ulster and Sunderland University, they have started fingerprinting international students. What sort of message does that give? That international students are not welcome in the UK.”

Her case is being handled by the Independent Adjudicators for Higher Education. A verdict is expected in the next few days.

At the time of publishing, Leeds University was unavailable for comment.

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