A UK university has launched a review of one of its academic research centres amid claims that funding was arranged by people connected to the current Syrian regime, it was disclosed Thursday.
The University of St Andrews, where Prince William and Kate Middleton studied, received more than 100,000 pounds in funding for its Centre for Syrian Studies (CSS) with the assistance of the Syrian ambassador to the UK, Sami Khiyami, The Guardian newspaper reported today.
A spokesman for the university in Fife, Scotland, said “in view of significant international concerns about recent events in Syria” the centre’s work would be reviewed “to ensure its high academic standards are maintained.”
The Guardian also claimed that the centre’s board of advisers included figures closely associated with the Damascus regime including Fawaz Akhras, a British-based cardiologist who, the paper said, is Bashar Al-Assad’s father-in-law.
Niall Scott, a spokesman for the University of St Andrews, said: “The CSS is an independent academic centre established to undertake research on contemporary Syria, its role in the modern world and economic and political reform in that country.
“It was established with the assistance of a 105,000 pound donation from the Asfari Foundation, a recognised UK charity, in 2007.
This is the only external funding the centre has received.
The salaries of CSS staff are paid directly by the university.
“Its Board of Advisers comprises a cross-section of Syrian interests and viewpoints.” He continued: “From an academic standpoint in international relations, it is critical to be able to engage directly with all aspects of Syrian society in order to better understand the regime.
“The University of St Andrews assiduously and regularly reviews its research centres and institutes and is satisfied that the CSS has met the high academic and ethical standards required to function effectively and independently.”
“In view, however, of significant international concerns about recent events in Syria, a further review of the centre is currently under way to ensure its high academic standards are maintained.”
The centre was opened in 2007. On the St Andrews University website it states: “The mission of the centre is to foster scholarship and dialogue about Syria and exchanges between Syrian and British scholars and others.
It will undertake research on contemporary Syria, specifically, on economic and political reform in Syria and on security and foreign policy issues concerning Syria.”