Petition launched to stop Cambridge Uni’s planned partnership with United Arab Emirates

The petition expresses alarm that Cambridge, ‘it seems, is more than willing to sell its soul for UAE’s dirty money’


CN: Mentions of restriction of human rights generally, with specific mentions of restricted LGBTQ+ rights

Cambridge SU Ethical Affairs Campaign have launched a petition in hopes of stopping the planned deal between University of Cambridge and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

This comes after Cambridge faced backlash for this planned £400 million collaboration with the UAE, on the grounds of the nation’s lack of freedom of speech, human rights and LGBTQ+ rights.

A spokesperson at the Cambridge SU Ethical Affairs Campaign stated that the campaign “unequivocally condemns” the proposed collaboration, expressing their alarm at the fact that Cambridge, “it seems, is more than willing to sell its soul for UAE’s dirty money.”

The spokesperson explained the campaign’s opposition to the proposed partnership with UAE further, saying that “the regime’s record on freedom of expression, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights speaks for itself”, which the campaign elaborates on further in their petition.

The Cambridge branch of the University and College Union (UCU) have also said that this proposed partnership would actively put university staff in danger, as “they would have little or no protection from repression on grounds of their sexuality or gender identity, or in the event they expressed views considered critical of the UAE’s authoritarian regime. They would be working in a context notorious for massive violations of labour rights.”

In their petition, the campaign state that in proposing a partnership with the UAE, it is “legitimising” and “making itself complicit” in these “human right’s abuses” enacted by the regime.

The spokesperson for the Ethical Affairs Campaign also states that the campaign echoes the words of the general secretary of the UCU, Jo Grady, who said that this collaboration is an example of a “rich authoritarian state using its wealth in an attempt to launder its reputation.”

They continue: “The regime stands for everything that Higher Educational institutions should not. Yet Cambridge University, it seems, is more than willing to sell its soul for UAE’s dirty money.”

In challenge to the claim made in internal Cambridge documents that the proposed partnership would help the university to “weather the challenges faced by universities as a result of Covid, Brexit and a constrained funding environment”, the campaign’s petition notes that Cambridge is the richest higher education institution in the UK, and the 13th richest in the world, with consolidated net assets of at least £11.8 billion, making them “hardly ‘constrained’.”

The petition suggests that instead of “selling its soul to oppressive regimes”, the university should be putting its “already-significant capital” towards “positive environmental, social and scientific progress.”

They add that the campaign notes the “serious concerns” raised by a “variety of actors” about this proposed collaboration, with students, staff and workers at the University outlining their strong opposition to it through UCU.

The campaign has also been contacted by Cambridge alumni, who have expressed a similar “grave opposition” to and “horror” at the proposed collaboration.

The campaign’s spokesperson added that “the collaboration with UAE begs the question as to whom the University would not be willing to collaborate with. From arms manufacturers to the fossil fuel industry (from whom the university has received more than £12.8 million since 2015), the time for the University of Cambridge to hold itself to basic moral standards is long overdue.”

The Ethical Affairs Campaign addressed a final message to the university: “We call on the University to scrap the planned collaboration immediately, and implement stringent criteria to ensure that the perpetrators of human rights abuses will never again be considered for financial or academic collaboration.”

It urges students, staff and workers to “come together” and express their “clear opposition” to the partnership to the university, and to “demand that not only is this partnership axed but future ‘collaborations’ with oppressive regimes are off the table.”

The campaign implores “everyone to share this petition as widely as possible so that we can send a clear message to the University that its days of dodgy deals are over.”

A spokesperson for University of Cambridge said this proposed partnership is an “exciting and unique opportunity for world-leading collaborations on efforts to transform economies and societies.”

They continued, saying the university believes that the partnership will help “prepare education systems for a radically changing labour market, promote greater global understanding through appreciation for Islamic art and culture, and develop innovative technological solutions to the challenges facing our planet, helping the transition away from fossil fuels.”

The university says the talks they are engaging in with the UAE have emerged from a “shared commitment to create a more sustainable future” and the university are “excited” about the prospect of its students and researchers “benefiting from these new connections and perspectives” as part of this. 

Feature image credit: Bilyana Tomova