Cambridge University negotiating with UAE over £400million partnership

Backlash at £400m UAE plan to fund Cambridge: University sparks controversy as it emerges officials are negotiating with United Arab Emirates over a possible partnership

  • UAE has faced human rights criticism – including treatment of foreign nationals
  • Accused by Universities and College Union of trying to ‘launder its reputation’ 
  • University has acknowledged there are risks associated with such a project 

Cambridge yesterday sparked controversy after it emerged it is negotiating with United Arab Emirates over a potential £400million partnership.

The proposed UAE-Cambridge Innovation Institute would be a collaboration between the university and ‘several educational, governmental and corporate partners’ in the UAE.

But the Emirates has faced criticism around human rights issues – including its treatment of foreign nationals. 

The University and College Union (UCU), which represents academics and support staff, accused the UAE of attempting to ‘launder its reputation’ and said it would be ‘shameful’ if Cambridge were ‘willing to be used in this way’.

The university has acknowledged there are risks associated with such a project, including ‘reputation’ and a ‘values gap’ between the UK and UAE, according to documents obtained by Cambridge’s student newspaper Varsity. 

Cambridge yesterday sparked controversy after it emerged it is negotiating with United Arab Emirates over a potential £400million partnership

They also highlight the ‘potential burden’ a large partnership could place on parts of the university as well as the possible impact on ‘academic freedom and institutional autonomy’.

The collaboration would seek to strengthen global understanding of Islamic art and culture, as well as create sustainable solutions that will help the international economy transition away from fossil fuels.

Documents outline an approximate budget of £400million over ten years, with £90million coming from in-kind contributions of academics and staff time. 

The foreign partners would contribute the remaining £312million, according to Varsity. 

Additional funding of around £25million could be obtained from external sources over the ten-year period.

The initiative is reportedly pending approval from the General Board, but a document sent to the Faculty of Education said it has the support of vice chancellor Stephen Toope. 

The document states: ‘We are also fully aware that there will be questions relating to matters of human rights and environmental sustainability and stewardship in the UAE, especially in light of recent university decisions relating to engagement with certain state actors in the region, and with petroleum-based energy producers.’

These risks could ‘damage the University’s ability to fulfil its mission’, which is ‘to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence’.

The University and College Union (UCU), which represents academics and support staff, accused the UAE of attempting to ‘launder its reputation’ and said it would be ‘shameful’ if Cambridge were ‘willing to be used in this way’

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘This is a clear case of a rich authoritarian state using its wealth in an attempt to launder its reputation.

‘It would be shameful if the University of Cambridge were willing to be used in this way. It is one of the wealthiest institutions in the UK and does not need this money.’

A Cambridge University spokesman said last night: ‘These are talks regarding a potential partnership and no details have been finalised.’

nMeanwhile, record numbers of students are set to attend university this autumn despite classes being online.

There have been 1,474,900 applications made by 18-year-olds to universities – a 12 per cent rise on last year.

And applicants have seen a ten per cent increase in offers from institutes across the UK – with 1,147,460 made. 

Offers from elite universities were up by 4 per cent from last year to 412,670.

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