A campaign by UCU members at the University of Liverpool and University of Cambridge, which was backed by hundreds of academics from across the UK and Egypt Solidarity Initiative, has won a significant victory. According to leaked documents published on the Academic Freedom Watch website, the University of Liverpool was worried about the potential for “reputational damage” if it pressed ahead with plans to build a new branch campus in Egypt. This followed the publication of a letter in the Guardian signed by hundreds of academics challenging the drive by some UK universities to forge closer ties with the Sisi regime through academic partnerships and involvement in grandiose building projects such as the New Administrative Capital.
The signatories condemned the rush to return to “business-as-usual” with a regime which has a record of brutal attacks on students and academics. In January 2016, Cambridge PhD student Giulio Regeni was abducted, tortured and murdered, most likely by the Egyptian security services while conducting research in Cairo.
According to a report in the Guardian on 31 October, the University is no longer considering building a branch campus in Egypt, although it remains committed to other forms of collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
The local branch of the UCU union which represents academic and related staff played a leading role in the campaign. Jo McNeill, President of Liverpool UCU told Egypt Solidarity Initiative:
In an era of neoliberalism where profit is constantly being put before people in the Higher Education Sector, the scrapping of the University of Liverpool’s proposal for a campus in Egypt is a significant win for all who campaigned against it. The campaign was a collaborative effort and this shows that solidarity and action do work. Nobody can bring Giulio Regeni back, but our motivation was to ensure that no other family has to go through what his family endured.”
Leon Rocha, lecturer in History and Liverpool UCU Ordinary Committee Member added:
This shameful saga began all the way back in November 2015, with Sisi’s official visit to the United Kingdom. The Egyptian and British governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding around cooperation in Higher Education. Then in January 2018, the UK Minister for Higher Education Sam Gyimah signed another Memorandum with Egypt on UK universities establishing branch campuses in Egypt. Universities UK (UUK), the self-proclaimed ‘voice of UK universities’ led by Liverpool Vice-Chancellor Professor Dame Janet Beer, pushed this one step further by signing a deal between University of Liverpool and Egypt in June. When pressed by activists on Egypt’s human rights record and the murder of Giulio Regeni, the director of Universities UK International (UUKi), Vivienne Stern, was evasive and dismissive. Janet Beer, who was awarded a damehood for ‘services to equality and diversity’, remained silent, and her official statement regarding Liverpool’s withdrawal from Egypt still failed to acknowledge the brutality of Sisi’s regime. University senior management really need to take a long hard look at themselves and remind themselves of their institutions’ stated mission–in Liverpool’s case, the ‘the advancement of learning and ennoblement of life’. Instead of challenging global injustices, managers have essentially become ruthless profit-seekers and handmaidens to the questionable agenda of volatile and oppressive regimes. There is absolutely nothing ‘ennobling’ about that.”