Britain’s Cambridge University has suspended a record £400 million deal with the United Arab Emirates over the latter’s alleged use of Pegasus spyware, The Guardian reported Thursday.
The decision was made public by Stephen Toope, the university’s outgoing vice-chancellor.
As recently as July, the proposed deal was praised as a potential “strategic partnership” aimed at helping resolve “some of the greatest challenges facing our planet.” A donation of over £310 million over a decade would have also been included. It would have been the biggest donation of its kind to the university.
This has now been undone by the UAE’s alleged use of Pegasus phone hacking spyware developed by the Israeli firm NSO Group. The Guardian claims that many of the UK phone numbers targeted by the spyware were at the apparent behest of the UAE. NSO Group has previously denied any wrongdoing.
In an interview with the student newspaper Varsity, Toole said: “There were further revelations about Pegasus that really caused us to decide that it’s not the right time to be pursuing these kinds of really ambitious plans with the UAE.”
“No one’s going to be rushing into this,” he added. “There will be no secret arrangements being made. I think we’re going to have to have a robust discussion at some point in the future. Or we may determine that it’s not worth raising again. I honestly don’t know.
“There are existing relationships across the university on a departmental and individual academic level, but there are no conversations about a big project,” he continued. “We’re aware of the risks in dealing with many states around the world, but we think it’s worth having the conversation,” he added.
The Guardian reported that according to documents it had seen, the proposed collaboration would have seen joint UAE and Cambridge University branding and new institutions being based in the UAE. It also reported that there were concerns over closer ties with the UAE due to its human rights record.
Varsity meanwhile reported that the deal was intended to upgrade the education system in the UAE and work on questions of climate and energy transition, adding it would have also focused on the exchange of Islamic and Western cultures.
A university spokesperson was quoted by the Guardian as saying: “The University of Cambridge has numerous partnerships with governments and organizations around the world. It approached the UAE as it does all potential partnerships: with an open mind, and rigorously weighing the opportunities to contribute to society – through collaborative research, education and innovation – against any challenges.”
“We will be reflecting over the next few months before further evaluating our long- term options with our partners and with the university community,” he added.