The University “will be reflecting over the next few months before further evaluating [its] long term options with our partners and with the University community”Christoph Schulz / Unsplash

The University of Cambridge published a Notice on 4th August providing a statement on the University’s potential £400 million partnership with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

It is stated that the University approached the initiative with the UAE as it did all other potential partnerships through “finely balanced assessments”, with the proposed collaboration assessed “rigorously” and “with an open mind.”

It is claimed that the opportunities offered by the partnership, in the areas of “collaborative research, education and innovation”, are evaluated against “any challenges” posed.

Nonetheless, the University stated that it “will be reflecting over the next few months before further evaluating [its] long term options with our partners and with the University community.”

It was previously revealed that the University of Cambridge is in negotiations with the UAE over a £400 million collaborative initiative. A UAE-Cambridge Innovation Institute (UAE-CII) has been proposed, and would be a 10-year collaboration between the University and “several educational, governmental, and corporate partners in the United Arab Emirates.”

The University has recognised the challenges associated with this partnership, including “questions relating to matters of human rights and environmental sustainability and stewardship in the UAE”, as well as effects on “academic freedom and institutional autonomy.”

It is acknowledged that these issues can “damage the University’s ability to fulfil its mission”, which is to “contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.”

The initial documents recognise the environmental and sustainability issues associated with the UAE - In 2019, the UAE produced 96.79% of its electricity from fossil fuels, and ranked fifth in terms of carbon dioxide emission per capita. This is contradictory to the University’s sustainability statement and commitment to divest from fossil fuels.

However, the documents emphasized that the partnership stems from a “shared commitment to creating a more sustainable future”, and that “the University of Cambridge and the UAE share an ambition to fight climate change and create sustainable solutions that will help the global economy transition away from fossil fuels.”

The UAE had also faced backlash for issues pertaining to human rights. In 2018, a life sentence was issued to Matthew Hedges, a Durham PhD student accused of working for MI6. Hedges was arrested in Abu Dhabi, and allegedly tortured while in imprisonment. Earlier this year, Princess Latifa of the UAE called for the re-investigation of the kidnap of her older sister, Princess Shamsa, from Cambridge twenty years ago.


Mountain View

Documents reveal proposed £400 million collaboration between University of Cambridge and United Arab Emirates

It is thus proposed that the partnership follows a “phased approach” to restrict the scope of the project to “shared academic, social and environmental goals of the University and UAE” so as to “de-risk” the collaboration.

The proposed collaboration has remained highly controversial. Last month, the Cambridge SU Ethical Affairs Campaign launched a petition opposing the initiative, and has since accumulated over 150 signatures.

The Campaign calls on the University to “scrap the planned collaboration immediately, and implement stringent criteria to ensure that the perpetrators of human right abuses will never again be considered for financial or academic collaboration.”

It has been revealed that the University has been consistently consulting the Committee on Benefactions and External Legal Affairs (CBELA) to assess the risks and challenges associated with the collaboration with the UAE, and that it will “shut down broader areas of collaboration if an unbridgeable values gap emerges.”

The initial project timeline aimed to launch the initiative in September this year, with recruitment for positions and academic roles starting simultaneously. The collaboration is planned to be virtual for the first few years following its launch, before establishing a Joint Institute in the UAE in September 2024.