The Tottenham MP has been vocal in his criticismPolicy Exchange

Tottenham MP David Lammy criticised Homerton College’s student welfare during an intervention in Parliament last week, highlighting the case of Azhir Mahmood.

During an adjournment debate about disabled students, the former universities minister asserted that the college had failed to support Azhir, a natural sciences undergraduate with learning difficulties whom Mr Lammy described as “talented and remarkable”. The MP asserted that Azhir felt that his mental health issues had been used as  a “weapon to attack him” when he asked for help.

Moreover, Mr Lammy said that Azhir was “told to go to a different university” instead of being given help, and that his psychiatrist’s recommendation of moving to a more central college in order to improve his mental health was met with the suggestion that Azhir ought to book a room at Cambridge’s YMCA instead of remaining in university accommodation.

Regarding the University more widely, Mr Lammy claimed that Cambridge “did not seem to understand that unseen disabilities must be recognised as just as debilitating as seen disabilities”, making reference to the 2010 Equality Act which enshrines in law equal treatment for all conditions, including Asperger’s, anxiety and depression.

Mr Lammy also criticised the University’s collegiate configuration, arguing that a case such as Azhir’s was exacerbated by the “apparent lack of a joined-up, inter-college transfer policy”, which would have enabled him to move to a centrally-located college and so be able to deal with his issues more effectively.

However, speaking after Mr Lammy, Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner defended the central university body, arguing that “[t]he University itself has a rather good record of trying to deal with some of these issues and has been singled out for the work it has done”.

Mr Zeichner went on to suggest that the problem lay in the interaction between the central university and its autonomous colleges. Mr Lammy agreed with this appraisal, positing that the college system was causing a “tremendous problem” for Azhir, going on to say that colleges ought to act as a “kind of surrogate family for young people” but that it failed to perform this role in Azhir’s case.

The Tottenham MP also felt that he had been “given the runaround” in his attempts to contact figures both in Homerton College and in the central university body. He claimed that the University “did not wish to discuss Azhir’s case with him” and that it ought to be “deeply embarrassed” regarding its conduct in this case.

A spokesperson from Homerton College claimed that they were “deeply disappointed” by the manner in which Mr Lammy raised the issue, stating that his intervention in Parliament included “several incorrect assertions”.

The college claims that they have “exceptional” provisions for student welfare and that it had supported many students with Asperger’s Syndrome “to successful graduation”.  It also stated that the college’s welfare provision “greatly exceeds the requirements of the Equality Act”.

Regarding Azhir’s request to relocate, Homerton stated that it would require the co-operation of another college, and that such a college has not yet stepped forward.

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