Durham University accepted £11,000 donation from Iran

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Durham University has been paid more than £700,000 in research grants from Middle East sources, including £11,000 from the Iranian government. Concern is growing about the involvement of dictatorships in UK higher education funding in the wake of the furore over Saif Gaddafi's £300,000 payment on a planned donation of £1.5m to the London School of Economics.

The Durham donations were uncovered by the Conservative MP for Harlow, Robert Halfon, who has started a one-man campaign to expose the links.

He says no university should accept money from Iran because of its repressive attitude towards homosexuals and its long-standing fatwa issued against the author Salman Rushdie.

Durham received the donation earmarked for a conference on Iranian Foreign Relations in 2005.

The details obtained under Freedom of Information (FoI) show the university has received £700,000 from Middle East sources since 1998 plus close to £2m in a capital donation from an undisclosed investor in the region.

Mr Halfon has made FoI requests to 100 top-ranked UK universities.

The MP, who called the LSE donation "blood money", admits he is hoping for the downfall of Colonel Gaddafi. "My late grandfather, Renatio Halfon, was a member of a small but thriving community of Italian Tripolian Jews in Libya when Gaddafi came to power in the 1960s," he said. "Gaddafi's henchmen seized all Jewish businesses and homes and my father, along with thousands of other Italian Jews, was forced to flee the country penniless."

Last week, The Independent revealed that Cambridge University had accepted more than £5m in funding from Oman and £8m from the House of Saud. Mr Halfon is also inquiring about an estimated £75m given to the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies by a dozen Muslim countries and questioning links between Liverpool John Moores (JMU) University and Libya.

JMU was to earn £1.2m for delivering a degree programme at a Libyan university. It has defended the scheme as aiming to "improve the situation of the Libyan people". Durham University said its Middle East grants were "for projects ranging from studies of soil fertility to environmental sustainability, archaeological digs and cultural preservation". Joshua McKim, its deputy records manager, said: "Please note that the university and its students receive funding from countries across the globe, including the Middle East and North Africa. This is nothing new."

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