Over the past decade, Western universities have increasingly forged partnerships with Middle Eastern countries, which include funding streams, even establishing satellite campuses in some Persian Gulf states. Qatar has gone so far as to build an entire Education City that covers more than 5 square miles and houses numerous campuses for major U.S. universities such as Northwestern, Carnegie Mellon, and Georgetown. Other stateside schools have received billions of dollars of funding from Middle Eastern countries, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Foreign Gift and Contract Report.
But recent events, such as the October murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit squad, as well as last year’s detention of British academic Matthew Hedges in the United Arab Emirates, have caused some of those universities to reevaluate their relationships with their Middle Eastern hosts and donors.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology Associate Provost Richard Lester addressed concerns about MIT’s decision to maintain ties to Saudi donors, stating it was a “tough call because none of us wants to lend legitimacy to grotesque actions like the assassination of Khashoggi.” Harvard University, in contrast, has ended its fellowship program with the MiSK Foundation, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s charity.
Funding in higher education is a bigger deal than ever as inexpensive alternatives abound and families increasingly balk at the skyrocketing cost of tuition. And while the universities claim that academic freedom prevails even amidst potentially competing ideologies, concerns remain regarding the influence that deep-pocketed donors can wield. —L.E.