Durham takes £125,000 tobacco donation


Durham University has accepted a £125,000 donation from a controversial tobacco company, a document leaked to Palatinate reveals.

Signed in June 2010, the gift agreement confirms that British American Tobacco (BAT) will provide funding towards the Chancellor’s “Scholarships for Afghan Women” appeal. The document also explicitly states “that neither the Donor nor the University shall seek to publicize the gift”.

Some academics and students have strongly criticised the move.

A group of anonymous University staff describing themselves as ‘Concerned Academics’ told Palatinate:  “The poor judgement in taking funding from the profits of a universally-maligned tobacco giant speaks volumes for the contempt that the University’s leaders and fundraisers have for the ethos and values of this University and its staff and students”.

The academics added: “The decisions taken by the University’s executives are detached from the realities of life in academic departments. There has been little or no consultation with staff in recent years on a whole range of major issues which are now having a negative effect on our reputation.”

Tim McInnis, Director of Development & Alumni Relations at the University, defended the decision.

“The BAT donation was accepted following careful consideration by the University Executive Committee (UEC) in line with its Gift Acceptance Policy, which is approved by University Council. Maximising the resources available to support studentships is an important way in which the University supports its educational purpose.

“We are proud of the project and delighted that its humanitarian ethos resonated with such a cross-section of Durham University alumni, friends and supporters.”

Vice-Chancellor Chris Higgins added: “Who are we to deny these deserving students access to the Durham education you and I have been privileged to enjoy just because many of us have a personal distaste for tobacco?

“These funds were donated for charitable purposes and were intended by all parties to be anonymous and simply to do good in line with the University’s charitable and educational commitments.”

Durham Students’ Union (DSU) Education and Welfare Officer, Jake Wanstall, said: “Although I highly commend the ends achieved by the scholarship programme, I think we need to ask more questions of the University’s policy over choosing suitable donors.

“This is evident given that currently its policy does allow a company such a BAT to donate, whom many students would deem inappropriate or even unethical.”

The ‘Concerned Academics’ said that there is a growing feeling of discontent amongst academic colleagues, who are “exasperated… and increasingly worried about the direction of the University.

“The academic staff voice at Durham has been suppressed by the management of the University for many years now and we’re tired of token consultation exercises.”

When Nottingham University received funding from BAT in 2001 it was met with widespread opposition as anti-Smoking campaigners urged students to boycott the University. A leading cancer researcher even moved his team of scientists because in his view, “the university is seen to encourage smoking and that is ethically wrong”.

One anonymous academic told Palatinate that he suspected that “the rationale behind the donation was to help BAT achieve penetration into emerging markets such as Afghanistan.”

Anti-smoking charity Ash also criticised the donation.

A spokesman said: “BAT is a company that makes almost £3bn a year profit from selling an addictive product that kills half of life long users.

“There’s no stunt they wont pull to try to look like responsible citizens. The truth is they deal in death.”

In the wake of revelations that Durham had received $400,000 from the U.S. State Department to run a series of seminars on Iran, Higgins addressed the issue of funding sources in an interview with Palatinate.

He said: “drawing the line is always a difficult decision when you’ve got controversial issues, but we’ve got a very strong framework which I hope indicates we get that as right as we possibly can.”

Durham’s ‘Gift Acceptance Policy’, which the Vice-Chancellor referred to, states that the University should consider whether “the gift derives from illegal activities”.

On a number of occasions the tobacco giant has been accused of smuggling, and it has also come to light that the firm used to add appetite suppressants to its cigarettes to target female smokers.

The University responded by saying that “Tobacco is a legal product, and BAT is a FTSE100 company. In deciding to accept the donation, UEC (University Executive Committee) was confident that it was acting within the parameters of University policy and in line with its obligation to act in the best interests of the University.”

From those students Palatinate spoke to, concerns were raised but opinions were mixed.

Will Clement, a second year student at Castle, commented: “While the inconsistencies in the university’s stance towards accepting funding from tobacco companies is wrong, and it is undeniable that BAT has caused widespread harm, the university has not adopted a pro-smoking stance that would endanger students’ health.

“I feel that, in this situation, the honourable ends of the Scholarships for Afghan Women outweigh the somewhat dubious means.”

Adam Robertson, a second year student at St. Cuthbert’s Society, was stronger in his criticism.

“The message from the University concerning its gift acceptance policy seems to be that, as long as the price is right, the management is prepared to take money from anyone.

“The acceptance of money from BAT seriously puts its intellectual autonomy at risk.”

In response to the Nottingham case, a joint Cancer Research and Universities UK protocol from February 2004 said: “If a university accepts donations from the tobacco industry, Cancer Research UK considers it has a duty to publicly criticise such funding.”

Cancer Research UK is just one charity which contributed funding to a three year University study which aimed to “publicize the work of Smoke Free North East (SFNE)”, and to “inform and increase the efficiency of SFNE”. The project ended in 2009.

What do you think about the donation? Register your comments below or email editor@palatinate.org.uk with your thoughts.

13 thoughts on “Durham takes £125,000 tobacco donation

  • When the Iranian money issue first arose some years ago, Prof. Higgins justified the decision to me by contrasting it with taking money from tobacco companies – the latter, he said, Durham does not do because as a source of funding this would damage credibility, which he claimed was not the case for Iranian government money. Clearly a picture of desperation for cash is emerging, which perhaps should be a cause for reflection.

  • The fantastic thing about Durham (and one of the reasons they wheel out for putting up the fees) is that we are at a top university. This means the university accepts students who are (supposedly) the cream of their academic school year, bright and perceptive. If students here aren’t bright enough to make an informed and personal choice about smoking – without being swayed by donations to the university – then what is the point in them being here in the first place?
    So long as the university hasn’t broken the law I don’t care where money it raises comes from – as adults we are all old enough and sensible enough to choose what we do with our lives regardless of other peoples actions. If you don’t like the fact that a company has decided to use some tax break funds to help educate young women from an oppressed state then thats too bad. Less armchair ethics and high horsing please Durham.

  • Durham University is very important to me. My grandfather went to university at Durham and so did his daughter (my mother). Some of my mum’s friends at the university are lecturers. For as long as I have been thinking about which university I’d like to go to, it’s only really ever been history at Durham. This has caused many interesting conversations at home as my dad is a Cambridge man!

    I’ve noticed the university in the news a lot lately because of funding from the middle-east especially Kuwait and your announcement on tuition fees (which I was waiting for with bated breath!) and I have read Vice Chancellor Higgins’s interview on the Palatinate newspaper website on the university’s ethical funding credentials.

    I have been worried about one thing though. My mum was told by some lecturer friends that British American Tobacco have given a lot of money to the university for the appeal to help students from Afghanistan come to Durham for a degree. She has been very concerned about this. She – and I – hoped it’s not true becuase Professor Higgins said in his interview that he values transparency and openness and I have not seen anything about it on the university website or on British American Tobacco’s. Now I know it is true after all and it makes me sad to think of such a laudable and noble appeal tainted by funding which is made possible by the despicable trade in misery and addiction. More personally my grandfather who loved Durham so much died of lung cancer because he was a life-long smoker who tried and tried to give up but sadly couldn’t.

    All I can think of right now is that in a straight competition between greed and the reputation of the university, cash seems to win every time. Shame on you Durham University.

  • Is Durham so desperate for funding that the fundraisers have to tap into such questionable sources? Have they really exhausted all other (less controversial) avenues? The appeal was something to be proud of, but the connection with BAT leaves an unattractive taint and will potentially cause alarm for some of the recipients. As an aside, if you’re going to accept money from BAT, why such a paltry amount from a multi billion dollar industry? Is £125K worth risking your reputation for? BTW, is this the same fundraising appeal that is on the shortlist for a Times Higher Award? Ironic ey?

  • What a backwards step and a betrayal of our social justice and fair trade ethos. What do BAT have to say about this?

  • Hello

    I am an employee of Durham University, but I want to say up front that my views expressed here are my own personal feelings on the matter and do not represent the University’s at all whatsoever.

    I am a marketer; I am also a human geography graduate. I have studied globalisation and multinational business and I have worked for multinational companies. I understand that we live in a capitalist society – for all its rights and wrongs – that is our (ever-shifting) reality.

    We cannot halt multinational business; the momentum is already set (and accelerating due to IT/telecommunications and the global division of labour). The best we can hope for and what we should strive for as a civil global society is that business is conducted ethically, that workers’ rights are protected and respected. That supply chain members and distributors are given a fair (and profitable) deal.

    The tobacco industry has existed ever since back in the day when the doctor would recommend you smoked to ease a “rattling chest” since before we had the scientific research to evidence how harmful it is, and how difficult it is for smokers to quit the addiction, how expensive it is for the British tax-payer to subsidise an over-stretched NHS to care for smoking-related illnesses.

    So what do companies like BAT do? They can’t shut down. Perhaps over time they will… but in the meantime, they set up Corporate Social Responsibility programmes (BAT call it Corporate Social Investment and in the UK they have invested in Nottingham and Cambridge too according to their website). On the one hand this could be seen as a PR exercise. But on the other hand it does help some humanitarian causes.

    I am sorry, on a personal level that this has upset and disheartened so many people.

    I also hope people read this with the sincerity with which it was meant, as these are truly my own personal views and not some “PR” stunt. I wanted to put my real name to it and as it happens I have an unusual name which is easy to trace.

    Happy Friday everyone!

  • As members of the interdisciplinary Smoking Interest Group in Durham University we are writing to express our dismay at the University’s acceptance of a gift from British American Tobacco to help fund scholarships for Afghan women students. While we are extremely supportive of the University’s initiative to help the women of Afghanistan, the acceptance of this gift does not sit well with our commitment as a University to being ‘a socially-responsible institution’ (University Strategy 2010-2020 p19). Our region is renowned for being the first in the UK to set up a tobacco control office (Fresh Smoke Free North East) and members of our team have worked closely with that organisation researching its effectiveness and assisting its mission to make the North East a smoke free region. Furthermore staff members of the group are all Fellows of the Wolfson Research Institute which seeks to ‘improve health and the quality of people’s lives by informing policy and practice’.

    Smoking is an international epidemic that severely affects countries like Afghanistan. The World Health Organisation reports that tobacco killed 100 million people worldwide in the twentieth century but that it could cause the deaths of one billion people over the course of the 21st century. An estimated 80% of those deaths will occur in developing countries. The tobacco industry will do anything it can to promote its wares and appear philanthropic, particularly in new and emerging markets. Taking such a donation puts the University into disrepute – we are headline news in ‘Tobacco Industry Today: Afghanistan Tobacco News’, an internet service for the tobacco industry, for example.

    Our collaborators at Fresh Smoke Free North East have already noted their concern at the University’s action, as have NHS colleagues, collaborators in ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) and health researchers at other universities. The University’s acceptance of this gift risks compromising our credibility as researchers in this field and the possibility of future research collaborations with such organizations. It also affects decision-making in relevant circles about event bookings, etc. We therefore distance ourselves from this decision and urge the University to reject all offers of money from the tobacco industry, for whatever purpose.

    At the same time, it is worth noting that the involvement of academic staff with British American Tobacco runs deeper than the issue of the £125,000 received in this gesture of cynical philanthropy. The University Superannuation Scheme, of which most academics working in the UK are members, had £214 million invested in British American Tobacco (USS Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2010, p25), a figure which had increased to £230.1 million on 31st March 2011, one of the scheme’s top ten equity holdings. We urge all academic members of staff to take a stand about their retirement income being dependent on the prosperity of a company which actively markets its deadly products worldwide.

    Yours sincerely

    Jane Macnaughton
    Andrew Russell
    Sue Lewis
    Susana Carro-Ripalda
    Frances Thirlway
    Peter Stelfox
    Smoking Interest Group, Durham University

  • All very interesting points indeed and I respect both sides of the argument. However, Durham University it would seem has taken money from the Catholic Church – does this mean that it condones the spread of HIV in Africa. Or a donation from the pharmaceutical industry – perhaps Durham is pro-animal testing. Not to mention the pro-oil stance that is surely implied by links to oil companies.

    Everything must surely remain in context. Sometimes conclusions cannot be so easily drawn. I’m more inclined to agree with “Jolly Green Giant” above. I cannot stand tobacco, and have never, and hopefully will never smoke, but my own view is that the good thoroughly outweighs the bad here. Though Dr Russell and his colleagues make some valid points, I cannot find the link that is intimated. BAT does not appear to have any operations in or trade with Afghanistan, where it seems the tobacco industry is unregulated and sales are often illegal.

    Long live perspective.



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