Oxford sued over grades by student who didn't get into Yale law school

Graduates pose for a photograph outside the Sheldonian Theatre after a graduation ceremony at Oxford University.
Graduates pose for a photograph outside the Sheldonian Theatre after a graduation ceremony at Oxford University.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Lawyers for an Oxford graduate who is suing the university over his "disappointing" exam grades nearly two decades ago told a London court on Tuesday (Nov 21) that he missed out on going to law school in the United States because of his results.

Mr Faiz Siddiqui, who received a 2:1 degree (second upper class), the second-highest grade available, says in a submission to the court that he received poor teaching for one of his papers.

"While a 2:1 degree from Oxford might rightly seem like a tremendous achievement to most, it fell significantly short of Mr Siddiqui's expectations and was, to him, a huge disappointment," his lawyers said in court filings.

His lower-than-expected grades - 17 years ago - exacerbated his depression and this left him "unable to achieve the professional career he had hoped for", including missing out on the chance to study at an Ivy League university after Oxford, his papers say.

His lawyer Roger Mallalieu told the court on the first day of a seven-day trial on Tuesday that there was "simply inadequate teaching" for one of Mr Siddiqui's papers. But the university's lawyer Julian Milford said Mr Siddiqui was being taught by an expert in the field with 30 years' experience in the subject: The Indigenous Politics and Imperial Control of India between 1916 and 1934.

Many British graduate recruitment programmes require at least a 2:1, rather than a first-class degree. But graduates with first-class degrees are more likely than those with a 2:1 to work in high-wage industries - and they earn starting salaries that are about 3 per cent higher, according to research published by the London School of Economics in 2013.

The university's lawyers say Mr Siddiqui's grade was an "excellent platform for success in future life". They say e-mail messages indicate his undergraduate scores did not affect his applications to Harvard and Yale law schools and there are many possible reasons, including his serious hay fever, for his worse-than-expected score on the exam.

A spokesman for Oxford said the university "is robustly defending the claim brought by Mr Siddiqui" and declined to comment further while the case was underway. Lawyers for Mr Siddiqui declined to immediately comment.

After graduating from Oxford, Mr Siddiqui trained at the UK "magic circle" law firm Clifford Chance but was not kept on at the end of his training, according to his court filings. He worked for three other law firms and then as a tax adviser at the accounting firm EY, but was dismissed in December 2011 "essentially for poor performance". He has been unemployed since.

"In his depressed state and suffering from insomnia he was unable to perform as he - and his employers - would have liked," his papers say. "At the root of all this lay his profound disappointment with and inability to understand his poor results at Oxford."

The 38-year-old's court papers say his reason for taking so long to bring the case was that he had a "light bulb moment" after a dinner with an old university friend in 2013. That led to him finding out that another ex-student had complained about the teaching on the same module. This gave him "some proper basis for investigating a possible case against the university".

Figures from Oxford University show that 211 of the 306 Modern History students that took their final exams in 2000 scored a 2:1. Forty-seven got a first-class degree and 44 got a 2:2, the grade below a 2:1. Two got a third-class degree, the grade below a 2:2, and two scored a pass, the grade below that.