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Open University under probe over Cuban student ban

Cuba is on Open University's list of 'restricted countries' for 'international economic sanctions and embargoes' came to light. Source: Shutterstock

The distance-learning institution is being investigated by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for possible discrimination on grounds of race or nationality when it was revealed they do not allow Cubans to enrol with them.

When a Cuban student’s application to study for a PhD in Teaching English as a Second Language was rejected by OU’s management – even after the lecturers accepted it – the ban on Cuba for being on a list of “restricted countries” for “international economic sanctions and embargoes” came to light.

The university says it is “temporarily unable to accept” students from certain countries, including Cuba, while it applies for the necessary licences to do so by the US Treasury Department’s Office for Foreign Assets Control.

“The US has comprehensive sanctions in place against a number of countries, including Cuba, meaning it is unlawful for organisations subject to US jurisdiction to supply educational services to those countries without a licence,” an OU spokesman said, as quoted by The Telegraph.

There are no UK or European Union sanctions against Cuba, according to rights group Cuban Solidarity Campaign (CSC).

The EHRC is probing whether OU breaches the Equality Act 2010 outlawing discrimination based on race, which includes colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins.

An EHRC spokesman said: “The Equality Act makes it unlawful for universities to discriminate against students based on nationality when deciding who to offer admission to. The Open University may be in breach of the Act. We’ll be looking into this matter further.”

Syria, Iran and North Korea are also on OU’s “restricted list”.

According to the University and College Union (UCU), the Cuban ban is “at odds” with the country’s higher education policy. Earlier this year, the UK and Cuba signed a Memorandum of Understanding to “boost bilateral cooperation in higher education, research and teaching of English”.

“There is no justification for not accepting Cuban students on a course, and any move to stop anyone would be directly at odds with current UK government policy on cooperating with Cuba on higher education issues, particularly around teaching English,” UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said.

Cuban Solidarity Campaign, a British organisation that campaigns against sanctions and US occupation of Guantanamo Bay, has written to the UK government to intervene and force OU to overturn its admissions policy by invoking the antidote legislation, the “Protection of Trading Interests Act” passed in 1996.

The Act protects British interests “against any such bullying” by the US.

Cuban Solidarity Campaign director Rob Miller said: “It is a ridiculous situation. You have a British institution overriding UK laws on equality to safeguard against US laws. I have spoken to the Cuban Embassy and they are annoyed. If the Open University doesn’t respond satisfactorily, we will seek legal advice. This is discrimination”.

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