Exeter UCU has voted unanimously to boycott the UAE and to ask the University to suspend its business ties with the UAE, following the sentencing of Matthew Hedges.
Hedges, a Durham PhD student who received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Exeter, was given a life sentence – a maximum of 25 years’ imprisonment followed by deportation – after being accused of espionage in the UAE. He had previously been held in solitary confinement for six months, his family and lecturers say.
Both universities, as well as his family, maintain Hedges visited the UAE to conduct research. The case has provoked concern for Hedges, his family, and academic freedom.
An open letter in support of Hedges has gained over 600 academics’ signatures, and a change.org petition started yesterday has reached over 320,000 signatures.
The University of Exeter’s Graduate School of Education runs a Dubai-based course, the Doctor of Education (EdD) Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Other British universities operate UAE-based campuses.
The motion, which passed last night, resolves to:
- Condemn the sentencing of Matthew Hedges
- Write to members of University senior management staff, asking that “without prejudice to the students currently enrolled in the EdD Dubai Programme, the University of Exeter suspends all business partnerships with the UAE, including the recruitment of future students to its UAE degree, and lobbies for the immediate release of Matthew Hedges”
- “Engage in an academic boycott” of the UAE.
The Exeter branch of the UCU also agreed “British Universities ought to abide by their stated value of academic freedom and withdraw from all existing academic and business partnerships with the UAE until the conditions are met for legitimate academic activity to be carried out in the Emirate federation.”
João Florêncio, the secretary of the Exeter branch, said: “Our members are very worried about Matt Hedges’ predicament and the seeming curtailing of the academic freedom of colleagues travelling to the UAE for work. As such, our general meeting has unanimously called for an academic boycott of the UAE until the situation is satisfactorily resolved. That includes asking that the University of Exeter temporarily suspends its doctoral programme in Dubai and lobbies for the immediate release of Matt Hedges.”
A spokesman for the University of Exeter said: “The health and welfare of Matt and his family remains is our paramount concern, and we remain committed to offering and providing every level of support, help and assistance we can. The University will be meeting with members of Exeter UCU in due course to discuss the outcome of their most recent meeting. However, we remain resolute that it is absolutely vital that academics the world over are free to conduct research without fear of interference or arrest.”