Top US universities reassessing Saudi ties following Khashoggi murder

Top US universities reassessing Saudi ties following Khashoggi murder
Elite colleges such as MIT and Harvard are reviewing their lucrative funding deals with the Saudi government after pressure from their student bodies.
3 min read
13 November, 2018
Mohammed bin Salman visits MIT as part of his US tour in March [Getty]
Less than a year after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's whistle-stop tour of leading US universities, the ties these institutions have with the Saudi leader are under careful reconsideration following his spectacular fall from grace.

Last March, the crown prince was hailed by his US hosts across all sectors for bringing liberalising reform to the conservative kingdom.

However, amid allegations he ordered the extrajudicial killing of journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi, US universities - who have received some $350m from the oil-rich kingdom in the past five years - may be forced to cut their lucrative ties with Riyadh.

Pressure has been applied by student body and international observers, Harvard University told the Guardian with the Ivy League college saying it was "following recent events with concern" and "assessing potential implications for existing programmes".

The elite institution is known to have a deal with bin Salman's foundation, MiSK, sending hundreds of Saudi high schoolers to Harvard summer school each year. On top of this, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal paid $20 million in 2005 towards Harvard's Islamic studies programme.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has come under similar pressure after hosting the de facto Saudi leader during his US tour, when its president Rafael Reif raised some eyebrows by claiming that Riyadh was "accelerating its progress toward a promising new future".

MIT president Rafael Reif greets MBS at MIT in March
Reif has since ordered a review of MIT's institute-level engagements with the kingdom. MIT's associate provost for international activities Richard Lester wrote in an open letter to the institution that the disappearance of Khashoggi was "of grave concern".

"All of us should recognise that MIT has enjoyed highly productive educational and research collaborations with colleagues and partners in Saudi Arabia over many decades," Lester wrote in the letter.

As bastions of free speech and innovations, universities including MIT and Harvard have been forced to change their tune on the Saudi leader amid the furore over the gruesome and premeditated murder of the Washington Post columnist.

An Associated Press report on Saudi funding to US universities revealed that  Washington DC's George Washington University was the largest recipient, being granted more than $70 million since 2013. Virginia's George Mason University received a cool $63.1 million.

The funding is mostly comprised of both gifts and scholarships for Saudi students' tuition fees.

Fellow Massachusetts university Babson College, has also put its ties with the kingdom under review. The college had inked a $52 million deal with the the Saudi government to assist with the establishment of the Prince Mohammed bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship, named after the crown prince, in Saudi Arabia.