by Jack Battersby & Daniel Johnson
Vice-Chancellor Chris Higgins has defended the University’s ethical funding policy following the revelation that the U.S. State Department provided over £300,000 for a series of projects aimed at gathering information on Iran.
In an interview with Palatinate, Prof Higgins stated that “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.”
Last month, the University faced criticism from students, staff and the media after a diplomatic cable sourced from the U.S. Embassy in London and released by Wikileaks stated that seminars had been used to offer “U.S. Government observers a useful look inside Iranian politics at a grassroots level.”
Referring to the leaked document, Prof Higgins sought to defend the methods used by the School of Government and International Affairs (SGIA) to source funding to host such international events.
“We intend to be as transparent as possible, and I think we are. There were many funders for these particular seminars, and they were all freely available if someone has asked. The fact is that we get thousands of funders from around the world.”
“It’s just not possible for us to list all of our sources – for example in the case of scholarships.”
However, the vice-chancellor went on to admit that greater steps should have been taken to ensure participants in the seminars were aware of the U.S. Government’s financial contribution.
“I think you’re probably right – in that case it should have been made a little bit more transparent. I can fully accept that those individuals are a little concerned they didn’t know, but it wasn’t deliberately hidden from them.”
The University Ethics Committee is responsible for issuing guidance to academic faculties on the receipt of external funding for research and education. The group is chaired by Dean of Durham Michael Sadgrove, and students are represented by the DSU President, who also sits on the University’s Senate and Council.
The committee’s main objective is to ensure that any gift or grant received from private or governmental sources does not bias the outcome of research or teaching.
“Our School of Government has contact with governments in countries all around the world. This doesn’t mean we necessarily support what those governments are doing,” said the vice-chancellor.
Last week, students from the London School of Economics demonstrated in protest at their university’s financial ties to Libya. In 2009, a £1.5m donation from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation was made to the LSE.
Prof Higgins remains adamant that the UK’s leading universities should continue to seek funding from around the world. “We need to make sure that we continue to produce research which makes a difference. Wherever the funding comes from, we need to make sure that it is used properly.”
“Very few people give money to a university for pure altruism. Everyone has a purpose, and the U.S. Government may or may not have had one in putting this money in to generate the seminars. Our duty is to make sure that the source of the money does not bias the outcome of the seminars.”
An article by Prof Chris Higgins will appear in the final issue of Palatinate this term – out Tuesday 8th March.