Rose Bradbury / Composite: Noella Chye

Cambridge has defended taking a £20 million donation from Majid Jafar, CEO of the largest private upstream oil and gas company in the Middle East.

The University has been criticised by students and academics, with one member of University Council saying that Cambridge “persistently sidelines ethical considerations in its efforts to secure donations”.

Majid Jafar, a Cambridge alum, is the CEO and founder of Crescent Petroleum and the managing director of Dana Gas, the largest non-government-owned natural gas company in the Middle East.

The £20m donation, made by Jafar and his family, was publicised in December last year, and will go towards the development of a Cambridge children’s hospital, and an embedded University research institute.

Majid Jafar has repeatedly backed the development of oil and gas amid the energy transition, saying in 2022: “Somehow, it got misconstrued that we don’t need oil and gas any more. Nobody actually said that.”

After the donation was publicised, Jafar said at COP28 that “blaming the producers of oil and gas for climate change is like blaming farmers for obesity.” At the same conference, the businessman told António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, that he should have travelled to the conference in “a wooden boat powered with sails and oars” when asked about the continuation of fossil fuels.

Jafar has made multiple donations to the Conservative party, including £12,500 in March 2019 and £28,000 in December 2016. In 2019, the businessman gave £3,000 to Leo Docherty, MP and former Director of the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC), to which Jafar donated £15,000 in 2014.

Jason Scott-Warren, an English professor and member of University Council, Cambridge’s executive and policy-making body, told Varsity that he fought against the donation when it made its way through University governance.

“I queried the Jafar donation at the University Council meeting in March 2021, since I was surprised that it had been authorised under the new guidelines on funding derived from the sale of fossil fuels,” he said.

“It was clear that Crescent Petroleum and Dana Gas were banking on an expansion of fossil fuel demand to 2030 and beyond,” Professor Scott-Warren continued.

Cambridge has confirmed that the donation was approved by the Committee on Benefactions and External and Legal Affairs (CBELA), which scrutinises any large sums offered to the University.

The Topping report, which found that the University’s acceptance of research funding from the fossil fuel industry poses “high reputational risk,” urged Cambridge to “clarify” CBELA’s scrutiny of donations from parties associated with oil and gas.

This review is yet to be carried out, and was meant to take place following the implementation of a pro-vice-chancellor for sustainability, but these proposals were voted down by academics last month.

“CBELA nonetheless convinced itself that these companies were committed to addressing climate change and agreed to authorise the donation, and the Council was happy to approve that decision,” Prof Scott-Warren told Varsity.

“This is part of a pattern: the University persistently sidelines ethical considerations in its efforts to secure donations to fund its mission. When large sums of money are offered for projects that enhance our research and teaching, human rights violations and flagrant planet-trashing become distinctly secondary concerns,” he said.

Sam Hutton, chair of the SU’s Ethical Affairs campaign, also criticised the University’s scrutiny of donations. “The University’s own reviews have consistently asserted the ethical necessity of refusing fossil fuel industry money,” he said.

“A series of checks conducted by CUDAR and CBELA are meant to prevent the influence of this destructive industry on the research and reputation of the University, but all of these are conducted behind closed doors, with no public oversight,” Hutton said.

“Taking a donation from a person so clearly linked to the fossil fuel industry seems to indicate their willingness to get the money in while they can. While millions are being displaced and suffering famine due to the effects of climate change, the University continues to procrastinate its commitments to stop our complicity in this destruction,” he continued.

The University Council is currently considering a motion to refuse all new funded partnerships with the fossil fuel industry. The proposal was discussed at the Council’s meeting on Monday (12/02), but the next steps for the moratorium are yet to be confirmed.

A spokesperson for the University of Cambridge told Varsity: “The donation was reviewed and approved by the Committee on Benefactions External and Legal Affairs (CBELA). As with all donations and research funding to the University, this gift was accepted following robust due diligence procedures to scrutinise compatibility and alignment with our mission and values. Decisions take into account the University’s Ethical Guidelines, and also, since October 2020, the University’s climate change guidelines.”


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“We are immensely grateful for this personal donation from a Cambridge alumnus and his family, supporting the establishment of Cambridge Children’s Hospital and enabling it to carry out groundbreaking research and to improve the lives of children not only locally but also nationally and even internationally,” they said.

A spokesperson for Majid Jafar told Varsity: “The COP28 declaration in December last year clearly accepted the need for natural gas as a transition fuel to replace dirtier fuels like coal and diesel in developing countries and thereby enable the addition of intermittent renewables when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow (just as happens in the UK). Majid agrees with this as the fastest way to reduce carbon emissions in developing countries.”

Regarding Jafar’s political donations, they said: “These past donations are all on the public record but he has not donated for the past 5 years.”

University of Cambridge Regius Professor of Physics, Patrick Maxwell, said, “Cambridge Children’s Hospital will be a world-leading paediatric facility aimed at improving the health and well-being of children both in the UK and globally. Pressures on the health budget mean that philanthropy plays an essential role in helping us to build much-needed hospitals. I am grateful that the Jafar family, who have extensive personal experience of the challenges of an unwell child, have made a personal gift to support the research institute within the proposed hospital.”