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Outcry over Law Foundation Year cancellation

Maggie Wilcox reports.

Conflicting accounts from LMH and an applicant over the Law Foundation Year cancellation have led to public outcry.

A Facebook post from Monday, June 6 revealed that an applicant to the Lady Margaret Hall Law Foundation Year was refused a place due to staffing changes. The author of the post, Sahil Thapa, a second-year St Catz law student, had been mentoring the applicant. LMH claims to induce “legitimate expectations in students of the chance to try and secure a world-class education”; the subsequent failure of LMH to follow through on their commitments incited Thapa to write the post. 

LMH denies that law tutor resignations played a role in the suspension of this Foundation Year course. In an email to Cherwell, a spokesperson for the college wrote that law tutors “did not feel that any of those short-listed could be supported to the required level to progress to the undergraduate law degree” and for this reason, the programme would not run. 

However, LMH did not tell the applicant concerned of this reasoning until June 6, after which some number of emails had been exchanged between Foundation Year staff, college tutors and members of the Law Faculty. The official decision email from LMH, sent to the applicant on April 22 states that this decision of their unsuccessful application was “no reflection on [their] ability or potential”. Rather, the choice to suspend law as a subject was due to “an unexpected change of staffing” around their Law tutor availability.

Following this email, the applicant sought further clarification from staff involved in the Foundation Year and LMH in general. During these interactions, they were never given an alternative reason for them not being offered a place and were assured that a committee would give her case its deserving consideration. During this time in early May the applicant also began to talk to current Oxford students and seek out alternative methods of instruction from postgraduate tutors at other colleges. 

The Foundation Year wrote to the applicant on May 31st that such arrangements would not be feasible and their time would be best spent revising for their A-Levels and focusing on other university offers. In this email, an administrator for the Foundation Year suggested that the applicant may have misunderstood some conversations she had with other college staff, including the Principal. They also made clear that no change to the admissions decision can be made, despite a lengthy process of consultation.

At that time, the applicant contacted the Law Faculty and discussed the cancellation of the Foundation Year. After being directed to another member of staff, the applicant then received a call on June 6 informing them that had the cancellation of the Foundation year been solely a LMH staffing issue, then the Law Faculty could have helped. Apparently, this was not the case and LMH was instead suspending the program because it could not find any suitable candidates. This interaction is the first point in time in which the academic ability of candidates came up, according to the applicant’s email and call history.

Since Monday June 6, this incident has become a large issue on Oxford students’ social media feeds, especially Facebook. On Oxfess, an Oxford-geared gossip and discussion platform on the social media site, multiple posts were put up. They led to a more detailed discussion on this rejection. An online petition to reinstate the Law Foundation Year for 2022-23 was also created by Thapa. 

It remains unclear whether it is possible that the applicant will end up receiving a place, as is the true reasoning behind why the Foundation Year course in Law was cancelled.

Lady Margaret Hall’s full statement reads

“LMH law tutors interviewed a small number of Law candidates for a potential place on the Foundation Year 2022/23.  In their academic judgement they did not feel that any of those short-listed could be supported to the required level to progress to the undergraduate law degree.  For that reason, there will be no Foundation Year in Law in the coming academic year. At no point were any offers made to any of the applicants.  [Emphasis in original] LMH communicated this decision to candidates as soon as possible and regrets any disappointment caused. “

Image Credit: University of Oxford

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