Uni­ver­si­ties’ Saudi ties un­der scru­tiny af­ter Ja­mal Khashoggi killing

Ex­perts say Western academy has played a role in ‘sup­port­ing and per­pet­u­at­ing regime’. El­lie Both­well re­ports

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - el­lie.both­well@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Western uni­ver­si­ties are un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to re­ject fund­ing from Saudi Ara­bia and ter­mi­nate their part­ner­ships with the coun­try in the wake of the al­legedly pre­med­i­tated and state­sanc­tioned mur­der of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi.

Saudi Ara­bia’s ac­count of how Mr Khashoggi ( pic­tured inset be­low), a lead­ing critic of the Riyadh regime, died at the Saudi Ara­bian con­sulate in Is­tan­bul has been widely de­rided, lead­ing to calls for Western gov­ern­ments to break trade ties with the coun­try.

The case has also turned the spot­light on Western uni­ver­si­ties’ re­la­tions with the king­dom.

Ac­cord­ing to data from El­se­vier’s SciVal anal­y­sis tool, 73 per cent of Saudi Ara­bian aca­demic pub­li­ca­tions in 2017 in­volved co­au­thor­ships with re­searchers based out­side the coun­try, up from 42 per cent in 2009.

Be­tween 2015 and 2017, Egypt was Saudi Ara­bia’s main col­lab­o­ra­tor, closely fol­lowed by the US. The UK is sixth and Canada is sev­enth. Western in­sti­tu­tions with close re­search links with

Saudi Ara­bia in­clude Har­vard Univer­sity, Massachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, the Univer­sity of Toronto, Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don and UCL.

Mean­while, sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties have re­ceived large gifts from the king­dom. The late King Fahd do­nated £20 mil­lion to the Ox­ford Cen­tre for Is­lamic Stud­ies for the con­struc­tion of new build­ings in 1997, while in 2008 the uni­ver­si­ties of Cam­bridge and Ed­in­burgh each re­ceived £8 mil­lion from Prince Al­waleed bin Talal to fully fi­nance Is­lamic study cen­tres.

Last week, MIT’s as­so­ciate provost Richard Lester an­nounced in a let­ter to staff that the univer­sity was con­duct­ing “a swift, thor­ough reas­ sess­ment of MIT’s in­sti­tute­level en­gage­ments with en­ti­ties of the king­dom of Saudi Ara­bia” but said that “in­di­vid­ual fac­ulty mem­bers who have or are con­sid­er­ing en­gage­ments with Saudi Ara­bia will make their own de­ter­mi­na­tions as to the best path for­ward”. Christo­pher David­son, vis­it­ing fel­low at Lei­den Univer­sity and an ex­pert in Mid­dle East­ern pol­i­tics, said that Mr Khashoggi’s mur­der was “the lat­est in a very long series of re­minders that the king­dom of Saudi Ara­bia…should never have been con­sid­ered an ap­pro­pri­ate part­ner and donor for our lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties, and most es­pe­cially those with a long­stand­ing in­ter­est in re­search­ing Mid­dle East­ern pol­i­tics and Is­lamic stud­ies”.

“Money from Saudi Ara­bia, in­clud­ing from lead­ing rul­ing fam­ily mem­bers, has been part of a long­run­ning ef­fort by the king­dom to bur­nish its im­age abroad and build up ‘soft power’ in­flu­ence in coun­tries such as the UK and the US, which are deemed im­por­tant se­cu­rity guar­an­tors,” he said.

“In this sense, univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tors and se­nior aca­demics who have been will­ing to look the other way in ex­change for ca­reer ad­vance­ment have thus played a small but im­por­tant role in sup­port­ing and per­pet­u­at­ing the Saudi regime into the 21st cen­tury.”

Yar­den Katz, de­part­men­tal fel­low in sys­tems bi­ol­ogy at Har­vard Med­i­cal School, was one of sev­eral aca­demics who crit­i­cised the fact that Har­vard and MIT did not pub­licly an­nounce in ad­vance a visit by the crown prince, Mo­ham­mad bin Sal­man, to the uni­ver­si­ties in April.

“We are not ar­gu­ing that places like MIT and Har­vard are so ethic­ ally pure that they shouldn’t as­so­ciate with the Saudi gov­ern­ment, but rather that uni­ver­si­ties them­selves are so com­pro­mised that they need to re­think how they do things al­to­gether,” Dr Katz told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, adding that “part­ner­ships, which are ne­go­ti­ated be­hind closed doors, and whose terms are gen­er­ally un­known, are the is­sue”.

He said that Saudi Ara­bia’s re­cent de­ci­sion to re­call its stu­dents from Canada in­di­cates that its pro­grammes with Western coun­tries “aren’t sin­cere sus­tained in­vest­ments in re­search and ed­u­ca­tion” but “ways to gain le­git­i­macy and ad­vance bin Sal­man’s PR cam­paign”.

Melodie Jack­son, as­sis­tant vi­cepres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Har­vard, said that the in­sti­tu­tion was “fol­low­ing re­cent events with con­cern and as­sess­ing po­ten­tial im­pli­ca­tions for ex­ist­ing pro­grammes” with Saudi Ara­bia.

A spokesman for Im­pe­rial said: “Im­pe­rial re­searchers col­lab­o­rate with high­qual­ity aca­demic part­ners around the world. Some co­au­thor papers with schol­ars based at uni­ver­si­ties in Saudi Ara­bia. This is aligned with our aca­demic mis­sion and is part of our work to ad­vance knowl­edge in sci­ence, en­gi­neer­ing, medicine and busi­ness.”

Closed doors a Har­vard scholar has crit­i­cised the lack of trans­parency in some univer­sity part­ner­ships with Saudi Ara­bia

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.