Birmingham University is being sued for £10 million by an overseas student who failed his PhD.
Ikechukwu Udevi-Aruevoru, from Canada, has issued a writ against the university which he says was in breach of its duty of care towards him.
The mechanical engineer student claims he was “humiliated and scorned” by his tutors who had taken a dislike to him. He maintains he was mocked during an oral exam by one tutor who pulled faces and started laughing at him.
Mr Udevi-Aruevoru also claims the examiner in the oral test was not an expert in the field and his two course supervisors were biased against him because he had complained about them.
He is now seeking compensation for loss of the PhD and the “pain and humiliation and stress” caused as a result of “discrimination and unfair treatment”.
The writ also demands payment for the “mountain of financial debt and interest on that debt” and the “pain and humiliation of managing that debt”.
Mr Udevi-Aruevoru’s complaint focuses on two course tutors – Dr J Lin and Professor Trevor Dean – who were responsible for his research programme. He maintained he was told by Dr Lin three times that a statement he had made was wrong during the crucial oral test.
The writ states “he turned to the audience, made faces at them ridiculing the claimant and started laughing”.
The examiner, Dr M Ward, is described as “not an expert in the research area that constitutes the claimant’s PhD report, and thus he could not independently assess the validity of some of the statements made by the claimant during his oral examination”.
Mr Udevi-Aruevoru claims Dr Ward’s appointment as the examiner was a “violation of the university’s regulation” given his lack of expertise in the research area.
Prof Dean and Dr Lin are said to have “maliciously prepared him to fail the claimant before, during and after the claimant’s PhD review examination”.
Mr Udevi-Aruevoru claims the two tutors made false statements about his academic ability to the examiner before appointing him and knew he would rely on them to form an opinion of the research given his lack of expertise.
He also accused the university of breaching its own code of practice and violating his human rights.
A spokeswoman for the University of Birmingham said: “The university has never ‘failed’ Mr Ukevi-Aruevoru’s work.
“Following the nine-month review stage of research work completed, Mr Ukevi-Aruevoru’s supervisors were concerned that he had not grasped the project and the nature of doctoral level research as being fundamentally different from a taught course, and he was offered a three-month extension to improve his work.
“However, significant progress was not made during this period.”
She said the university would put forward a “very vigorous defence” against the claim.
A Birmingham education law expert said: “It seems more of a breach of contract issue and also a personal injury claim for the stress and psychological effect.
“He feels they failed in their duty of care to provide competent education. As an overseas student he has probably paid premium fees.
“University terms and conditions are usually on their website. When a student sues it is in breach of that statement.”
The National Union of Students has previously warned that undergraduates are likely to be more forceful in demanding they get value for money from universities since the introduction of tuition top-up fees.