I am now aware that it has recently come to light that since 2014, the Open University (OU) has not accepted students from a list of “restricted countries”, including Cuba, Syria and Iran, due to “international economic sanctions and embargoes”. I know that this has provoked a great deal of concern from organisations such as the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the University and College Union.
As you are aware, the Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for universities to discriminate against students based on nationality when deciding who to offer admission to. I am aware that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is currently investigating the OU to consider if this policy is indeed unlawful on these grounds. I will follow these developments closely.
The OU is one of only three United Kingdom higher education institutions to gain accreditation in the United States, which has comprehensive sanctions in place against a number of countries, including Cuba. Since the OU operates in the US, has many employees who hold US citizenship and has other significant links with the US (for example using US financial systems), it has argued that the university is subject to US laws and cannot supply educational services to those countries without a licence.
I believe there are no UK, EU or UN sanctions regimes restricting transactions between the UK and Cuba hence I am in agreement with Rob Miller the director of the Cuban Solidarity Campaign, who has 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 don’t respond satisfactorily to us, we will seek legal advice. This is discrimination”. Furthermore, the University and College Union general secretary, said “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.”
I am writing to both Open University Vice-Chancellor Peter Horrocks and Universities Minister Jo Johnson MP calling for the ban to be overturned.
In July 2017, the Government was asked if it “has had any discussions with the Open University on its use of a restricted countries list in its application process”. The Government responded that it had not. I shall be urging Minister Jo Johnson to do this.