Conservative MP, Robert Halfon, has criticised the University for accepting a £2.5 million endowment from a former Kuwaiti Prime Minister who has stepped down over corruption charges.
The former Prime Minister, Sheikh Nasser Al-Sabah, gave the money to support research on regional politics and security.
Robert Halfon described the University’s acceptance of the gift as ‘astonishing’. He has previously criticised the University for its links to the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, after one of his aides was offered a doctorate by Durham. At that time, Halfon suggested that “ethical questions” should be asked of the University. Last year, he stated that Durham University and the London School of Economics had accepted “blood money” from “despotic regimes” in the Middle East.
The new comments come after the former Kuwaiti Prime Minister attended the new academic programme’s launch in person last month, after pledging the personal donation last year.
He stepped down as Prime Minister, after the money was pledged, due to allegations that his government has illegally appropriated state funds, which lead to mass protests in Kuwait. Although Sheikh Nasser was cleared of the allegations, he refused to appear before a parliamentary panel probe into the matter. His son, Sabah, attended Durham University.
The donation has enabled the University’s School of Government and International Affairs to establish in perpetuity the Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah Programme in International Relations, Regional Politics and Security which will promote research underpinning a greater understanding of Middle Eastern societies.
Raheem Kassam from The Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think tank, disapproved of the University’s reluctance to rethink their policy, stating: “Durham University should feel obliged to reject any donations from leaders who have been implicated in scandals.
“Durham should question whether it is ethical and whether it ties in to their commitments. They should explain what their policy is regarding moral standards in education. Students will be up in arms about this.”
Although the University refused to comment further on the comments made by Robert Halfon, they reiterated last year’s statement, saying that:
“Durham University was honoured to receive a personal commitment of £2.5m from His Highness Sheikh Nasser Bin Muhammad Al-Sabah, former Prime Minister of Kuwait, to endow a research programme in Durham’s School of Government and International Affairs. The endowment will exist in perpetuity.
“The programme will focus on regional politics and security and will support the research of an existing professorship, as well as PhD studentships. One of the studentships is named in honour of General Sir Peter de la Billière, who holds an honorary degree from Durham and is a long-time associate of the former Prime Minister’s.
“The University conducted a detailed process of due diligence before finalising its acceptance of this gift. We are aware that His Highness Sheikh Nasser Al Sabah has previously faced charges brought by opposition MPs in the Kuwait Parliament and that he was able to satisfy his Parliament on that issue.
“Kuwait is one of the more open and progressive societies in the Middle East.”
Photographs: Durham University