I am aware that the Open University's admissions policy 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 University and College Union.
The OU has noted that the US 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 am aware that the OU is currently applying for such a licence, but has said that in the meantime the ban on Cuban students must remain.
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 developments on this closely.
The UK Government has previously noted that there are no UK, EU or UN sanctions regimes restricting transactions between the UK and Cuba. While the US has economic sanctions against Cuba, EU legislation counteracts the application of these sanctions within the EU.
I hope the UK Government will continue to promote UK-Cuba cooperation across various sectors, including higher education, and I will continue to monitor this issue.