More universities quizzed over Middle East funds

Further details emerged this week about the funding of British universities from authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.

As the JC reported last week, 100 of Britain's top universities have now come under increased scrutiny as a result of Freedom of Information requests, early day motions and parliamentary questions from the Harlow MP Robert Halfon.

Durham University has already issued a detailed response to the request. Since 1998 it has received £700,000 in grants from the Middle East and North Africa. It also disclosed that it had received a large gift from a former student from the Middle East for a "landmark building" and from an "individual linked to the government of Sharjah".

It has also received donations from the Iranian embassy. A paper published by Student Rights, which campaigns against campus extremism, revealed details of the "memorandum of understanding" signed between the university and Iran's science ministry. This agreed to staff exchanges, joint research projects and conferences. Two installments of £5,000 were agreed to pump prime the project.

Raheem Kassam, director of Student Rights, called for an immediate inquiry into such funding.

Exeter University, where Mr Halfon studied, has been forced to disclose that its vice-chancellor Steve Smith travelled to Tripoli in 2003 to discuss a £75 million contract to educate Libyan officials. Exeter issued a statement saying the deal fell through and the university had never received any money.

Bur it was also forced to make a statement about its European Muslim Research Centre, whose work is funded by the Cordoba Foundation and Islam Expo. Mr Halfon raised concerns that the funders of the centre shared the political objectives of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

"No one in the research team has any link whatsoever to companies or organisations with a political interest in the subject," said the statement.

"The analysis and reporting of the findings is independent. The University of Exeter is not aware of any relationship between the Cordoba Foundation, Islam Expo and the Muslim Brotherhood."

Last updated: 12:32pm, March 17 2011