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 went toward establishing Islamic study centers. In 2008, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal donated £8 million (SR 48.5 million) each to Cambridge and Edinburgh for this purpose, Al-Eqtisadiah business daily reported yesterday.
Oxford has been the largest British beneficiary of Saudi support. In 2005, Prince Sultan, the late crown prince, gave £2 million (SR 12 million) to the Ashmolean Museum. In 2001, the King Abdul Aziz Foundation gave £1 million (SR 6.1 million) to the Middle East Center.
There are many other donors. Oxford’s £75 million (SR 454.6 million) Islamic Studies Center was supported by 12 Muslim countries. Ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, gave £3.1 million (SR 18.8 million) to Cambridge to fund two posts, including a chair of Arabic.
Ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al-Qassimi, has supported Exeter’s Islamic studies center with more than £5 million (SR 30 million) since 2001. Trinity Saint David, part of the University of Wales, has received donations from the ruler of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
While Islamic studies are 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 £23 million (SR 139.4 million) 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 archaeology campus in Qatar. Bolton, Heriot-Watt, the London Business School, Manchester Business School, Cass Business School and Middlesex have bases in Dubai or neighboring Ras Al-Khaimah, the newspaper said quoting the Financial Times.
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.