At What Price? Transparency and Ethics in Higher Education Funding from Overseas

By Rupert Sutton

A new report by Student Rights has revealed Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Britain received more than £100 million in tuition funding from some of the world’s most repressive regimes over the past decade, including money from Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

‘At What Price? Transparency and Ethics in Higher Education Funding from Overseas’, released today, finds that at least £14.4 billion in overseas tuition fees was collected by British HEIs since 2000/01, with serious concerns raised at the transparency of funding streams from abroad and the ethics of accepting fees from opaque international sources.

 Key findings include:

  • Money from repressive regimes is regularly accepted to pay tuition fees, including from security apparatuses, state-owned companies, and foundations. Countries such as Syria and Bahrain, where governments are actively involved in violent repression, continue to fund UK universities;
  • £100,739,060 in tuition funding came from repressive countries rated ‘Not Free’ and given a score of six or higher by Freedom House;
  • Almost half of the universities included in the study (49%) failed to provide adequate data, highlighting a significant issue around transparency of international funding.

Universities received funds specifically to provide services to repressive regimes. This includedNorthumbria University, which sourced funding worth more than £430,000 from the Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population for ‘consultancy projects’ and a ‘clinical support programme’between 2007 and 2011.

In addition, both The University of Edinburgh and the Newcastle University received tuition funding from the Islamic Development Bank, criticised for enabling violence by providing money to the families of suicide bombers killed during the Second Intifada.

Author of the report, Student Rights research fellow Rupert Sutton, said:

It is absolutely not the intention of this report to condemn universities for accepting overseas funding – indeed the huge numbers involved show just how vital it is that our HEIs receive support from diverse funds around the world.

But there are clear ethical questions that must be asked if vast sums of cash from repressive regimes and their security arms are being used to fund education programmes in the UK.

Universities need to be able to properly scrutinise and monitor where their funding comes from, and to have a transparent record of their income from overseas.

I very much hope this report can kick-start a vital conversation on how our universities can continue to attract the best and brightest minds from around the world without putting themselves at risk of becoming dependent on undesirable or unethical funding streams“.

The findings of the report are based on data collected in response to Freedom of Information requests to 84 HEIs that are currently members of four key university groupings: the Russell Group; the 1994 Group; Million Plus; and the Universities Alliance; as well as annual financial statements released by the HEIs during the years covered.



Lost your password?

Not a member? Please click here