September 27, 2012 5:53 pm

Saudis donate most to UK universities

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Over the past decade, Saudi Arabia has been the largest source of donations from Islamic states and royal families to British universities, much of which is devoted to the study of Islam, the Middle East and Arabic literature.

A large share of this money goes toward establishing Islamic study centres. In 2008, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, nephew of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, donated £8m each to Cambridge and Edinburgh for this purpose.

Oxford has been the largest British beneficiary of Saudi support. In 2005, Sultan bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the late crown prince, gave £2m to the Ashmolean Museum. In 2001, the King Abdulaziz Foundation, a royal charity, gave £1m to the Middle East Centre.

There are many other donors. Oxford’s £75m Islamic Studies Centre was supported by 12 Muslim states. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, ruler of Oman, gave £3.1m to Cambridge to fund two posts, including a chair of Arabic.

Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed al-Qassimi, ruler of Sharjah, has supported Exeter’s Islamic studies centre with more than £5m since 2001. Trinity Saint David, part of the University of Wales, has received donations from Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi.

While Islamic studies is the most popular target for donors, support is certainly not restricted to the subject. The Saïd Business School, at Oxford university, was set up by Wafic Said, a Syrian-Saudi businessman, with a £23m initial donation.

Donations are not the only financial links to the Gulf. According to the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education, of the 200 branch campuses opened by universities around the world, 37 are in the UAE and 10 are in Qatar.

University College London has an archeology campus in Qatar. Bolton, Heriot-Watt, the London Business School, Manchester Business School, Cass Business School and Middlesex have bases in Dubai or neighbouring Ras al-Khaimah.

These satellite campuses have two purposes: for countries that need to expand their higher education rapidly, it allows them to build capacity. For the university – if they can make them work – it allows them to tap potentially lucrative markets.

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