The University of Cambridge is in talks with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) about a partnership which could provide the largest amount of financial support to the institution from a single source in its history.
The potential collaboration would seek to strengthen global understanding of Islamic art and culture, as well as create sustainable solutions that will help the international economy transition away from fossil fuels.
It is also hoped the partnership will focus on early years education, teacher education, Arabic literacy and blended learning, with a view to develop systems that can support a 21st-century labour market.
But the leader of the University and College Union (UCU) has described Cambridge’s plans as “shameful” and “problematic”.
It is understood to be the first time that Cambridge will have carried out a deal with the UAE at this scale and it is believed to be much larger than any donation awarded to the institution before.
In February 2019, billionaire businessman David Harding gave £100 million to Cambridge University in the largest ever single donation made to a UK university by a British philanthropist.
Mr Harding, a graduate of Cambridge’s St Catharine’s College, gifted the university £79 million to provide scholarships for the most talented PhD students, a further £20 million to benefit undergraduate students, and £1 million to attract undergraduates from under-represented groups.
The ongoing conversations with the UAE have emerged from a shared commitment to create a more sustainable future by helping to solve some of the greatest challenges facing the planet.
The University of Cambridge has said it is excited about the prospect of its students and researchers benefiting from new connections and perspectives through the potential partnership with the UAE.
The possible collaboration will “research and pioneer new ways of moving progressively towards a post-fossil fuel economy and embracing the fourth industrial revolution”, the institution said.
A University of Cambridge spokesperson said: “This is an exciting and unique opportunity for world-leading collaborations on efforts to transform economies and societies.
“The potential 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.”
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “This is a clear case of a rich authoritarian state using its wealth in an attempt to launder its reputation.
“It would be shameful if the University of Cambridge were willing to be used in this way. It is one of the wealthiest institutions in the UK and does not need this money.
“UCU members in other institutions have raised concerns about LGBT+ rights in UAE, and this deal looks especially problematic in light of the legal action which British academic Matthew Hedges is currently pursuing over alleged false imprisonment and torture.”
In May this year, British academic Matthew Hedges filed a High Court case against senior UAE security and intelligence officials, claiming he was tortured after being accused of spying.
He was detained in Abu Dhabi between May and November 2018 after being accused of working for MI6.
The academic, originally from Exeter, was sentenced to life imprisonment but was pardoned by the nation’s president days later.
On Tuesday, the Government confirmed that an Abu Dhabi investment fund has committed to invest £800 million in the UK life sciences industry.
Mubadala Investment Company, one of the world’s leading sovereign investors, agreed to the collaboration with British Patient Capital.