Cuba Solidarity Campaign response to Open University statement on its policy of banning Cuban students
Campaign News | Thursday, 27 July 2017
In response to pressure from campaigners, trade unions and MPs, the Open University has released a statement in which it attempts to justify its ban on Cuban students and seek sympathy for the “regrettable” situation it finds itself in.
Far from validating its actions, the OU’s response exposes it as being more interested in appeasing US regulations than abiding by its own mission statement of being “Open to All”.
The Open University is not unique in “reaching many thousands of international students” and operating in “numerous countries”. Many other British universities do the same, and many other British universities accept applications from Cuban students many of whom are studying right now in the UK. What makes the OU unique is its decision to exclude Cubans on the grounds of their nationality.
When faced with the choice of breaking the UK’s Equality Act, or risk of legal action from the United States Treasury Department, the OU has decided to opt for a discriminatory policy against Cuban students. By default, they are implementing US blockade policy in the UK. Pro-blockade politicians in the United States would be proud of them.
The Cuba Solidarity Campaign fails to understand why the OU thinks it needs to “apply to the US Treasury Department’s Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for the relevant licences” in order to accept Cuban students to study on courses based in the UK, when other UK universities do not.
The OU appeals to us to be patient while they are "temporarily unable to accept students from a limited group of countries". Perhaps the OU thinks that short term discrimination is acceptable? Or that as it's only a "limited group of countries" people wouldn't notice or care? It is precisely for those reasons that it is essential that the OU must be forced to change their policy.
Maybe the recent campaign has provoked the OU into making “strong representations to OFAC to grant the licences as quickly as possible” since it has now been exposed as operating this discriminatory policy for some time. However, regardless of whether their application to the US is successful or not, the fact remains that the OU policy is in breach of both the UK’s 2010 Equality Act, and the 1996 Protection of Trading Interests Act.
According to the British government’s own website: “The UK Protection of Trading Interests Act makes it illegal for UK-based companies to comply with extraterritorial legislation (like Helms-Burton) and there is provision for fines to be levied against offending companies and individuals. In parallel an EU Blocking Statute also makes it illegal to comply.”
The University says it is unable to “disregard regulation that may apply to us, nor is it within our power to resolve any tensions between UK law and international laws”, but by making the decision to exclude Cuban students, they have done just. They have chosen to disregard UK regulations and British sovereign laws in favour of US legislation.
Rather than stand up to defend their values they have reneged on their own mission statement: “to be open to people, places, methods and ideas”. They have made a mockery of the claim that they are “committed to promoting equal opportunities for all, and close monitoring makes sure that we live up to our ideals.”
The Open University says that it is “actively engaging with the UK government to see if there is any way that they can help to resolve this situation”. We would be very pleased to see exactly how the OU is challenging this unacceptable interference in UK sovereign affairs by a foreign government.
It seems that unlike other UK universities, the OU has made a judgement on which country is sovereign in its governance decisions. The British government now needs to decide whether British laws are worth the paper they are printed on. If so they should take swift action to penalise the OU on grounds of discrimination under equalities legislation, and under the Protection of Trading Interests Act.
Full text of Open University Statement
July 25, 2017
The Open University reaches many thousands of international students and operates in numerous countries. Operating at this scale globally means that we are bound by laws in different jurisdictions, including the United States.
The US has comprehensive sanctions in place against a number of countries, including Cuba, meaning that it is not lawful for organisations subject to US jurisdiction to supply educational services to those countries without a licence.
After careful consideration of the regulations, supported by legal advice and a risk assessment, the University reluctantly concluded that it must apply to the US Treasury Department’s Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for the relevant licences. The OU has applied for the licences and is waiting to hear whether or not they will be granted. In the meantime, we find ourselves in a regrettable situation in which we are temporarily unable to accept students from a limited group of countries, pending determination of the licence applications.
The University is strongly committed to being open to all people in all places. However, we cannot simply disregard regulation that may apply to us, nor is it within our power to resolve any tensions between UK law and international laws. We are therefore making strong representations to OFAC to grant the licences as quickly as possible in order that we can accept students in Cuba and the other comprehensively sanctioned countries. We are also actively engaging with the UK government to see if there is any way that they can help us to resolve this situation.