Damages sought from Uni

PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
The man behind a challenge to the University of Otago’s medical school admissions policy wants financial compensation after his child was excluded from the course.

Court documents relating to the case, including the man’s statement of claim against the university, were released to the Otago Daily Times yesterday.

The man argues the university’s admission policy — giving preference to indigenous, Pacific, rural, low socioeconomic, and refugee students — breaches the Education Act.

He says it discriminates against students outside those groups.

He also argues international students are being admitted to the medical school over suitable domestic candidates.

The man had a child at the university who passed the entry requirements, but was not admitted to the course.

He claims if he had known "the true character" of the admission scheme, he would have paid for his child to go to another university.

He wants the university to acknowledge that his child was unlawfully excluded from the course, and compensation for an alleged breach of the Fair Trading Act "in a sum yet to be determined".

He argues the university’s Mirror on Society policy is illegal because it allowed students into the medical school without regard to usual minimum entry requirements.

Admission through the preference categories was also run in an "ad hoc" way and the amount of students who entered through each category was chosen without taking into account New Zealand’s population make-up.

He also says students from these groups have been provided with "special access" to university staff during the academic year.

The university denies its admissions policy is unlawful and says it is entitled under the Education Act to give preference to people who are part of under-represented groups in particular fields of study.

It also argues the availability of places for international students is dependent on the fees they pay, which means no domestic students miss out as a result.

According to the statement of claim, the man wants the university to make several declarations.

Declarations sought include that the university’s admission policy for the 2020 academic year was unlawful as it related to the admission of students under the preference category and international students, and that health sciences first-year students were unlawfully discriminated against.

Associate Judge Dale Lester ruled to continue the man’s interim name suppression at a hearing in Dunedin this week.

Counsel John Maassen argued his client’s identity should be kept confidential because he had family members who attended the university.

Publication of his name inevitably would lead to identification of those students and "the effect of such attention in the period leading up to final exams is obvious”, the judge said.

Mr Maassen raised the risk of an online backlash.

"Access to justice is not upheld when families face the risk of toxic bullying and harassment in proceedings on matters related to the administration of public institutions."

Counsel for the University of Otago, Diccon Sim, consented to a suppression order being made.

Associate Judge Lester granted the order. He said the court had to "strike a balance between fundamental open justice considerations and the interests of the party seeking suppression”.

He said the Court of Appeal recognised the "potentially toxic character” of social media and its potential adverse effects on the psychological health of young people.

The claims

Statement of claim against the University of Otago

  • A declaration that the admissions methodology for the medical course was unlawful.
  • A declaration health sciences first-year students were unlawfully discriminated against and disadvantaged.
  • A declaration the university was in breach of the Fair Trading Act, and an injunction preventing the university from continuing the conduct.
  • Compensation for the breach of the Fair Trading Act in a sum yet to be determined.
  • A declaration the man’s child was unlawfully excluded from the medical course.
  • Costs

 

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