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UK academics criticise British universities’ pursuit of links with Egypt

Universities in the UK are facing criticism from academics for their efforts to pursue academic links with Egypt following accusations of human rights abuses, including the abduction and murder of Giulio Regeni.

Several higher education establishments with the backing of the British government are seeking to open campuses in Egypt; a country which is currently ruled by a strict authoritarian regime under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Universities UK, an organisation in favour of promoting links with the African country has described the intended outcome of talks as “partnerships, collaborative research, student and staff exchange programmes, joint funding applications and capacity building”.

In response, over 200 academics who work within the higher education sector have signed a letter to The Guardian newspaper to oppose this collaboration. There are fears about the academic freedom as well as the safety of LGBT staff if they were to work in Egypt.

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International stated: “The freedom that academics have to conduct their work without state or political interference is fundamentally important to UK universities and, we believe, an essential ingredient in excellent teaching and research. UK universities can contribute to the promotion of these values internationally in terms of sharing knowledge, encouraging debate and championing academic freedom.

“It is important that UK universities continue to engage internationally in education and research. Universities UK regularly reviews its partnerships with overseas entities and seeks advice from its board in the light of changing political and social circumstances.”

At the heart of the opposition campaign is fear academics will not be safe conducting research with the case of Giulio Regeni being a prominent example that is drawn upon

This initiative is dividing opinion within academic circles and within universities. The University of Liverpool for example has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Egyptian authorities whilst Jo McNeill, the President of University of Liverpool University and College Union is one of the people who signed the protest letter.

A spokesperson for the University of Liverpool said: “The [university] is committed to global engagement, which we believe is fundamental to furthering education and research. Higher education has a vital role to play in upholding and progressing rights and academic freedom and these matters were discussed during the visit to Egypt.”

At the heart of the opposition campaign is fear academics will not be safe conducting research with the case of Giulio Regeni being a prominent example that is drawn upon.

Two years ago Regeni, a Cambridge graduate travelled to Egypt where he was conducting research on the country’s independent trade unions. It is believed it was this research on a controversial topic that led to his abduction, torture and eventual death.

Protests over the Egyptian government’s role in the death of Mr Regeni reached Warwick campus back in January where a group of students gathered in front of the Arts Centre. The protesters included members from the University and Colleges Union, Amnesty Warwick, and Warwick Anti-Casualisation.

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