Would your institution take the tobacco pound? Phil Baty examines a revealing document
A global cigarette company identified six UK universities that privately indicated that they would be willing to contravene their ethical funding policies and accept money from the tobacco industry, according to a previously secret industry document.
An internal report on UK universities' attitudes to tobacco industry funding by British American Tobacco revealed the company was seeking to identify institutions with which it would be able to develop links.
The report was written in September 2000, when UK universities faced mounting pressure to reject tobacco industry links on ethical grounds. It is one of millions documents released by tobacco companies in the wake of a recent legal case in the US.
The report examined the policies of 100 UK institutions through interviews with "primary contacts". It identified 18 universities with "restrictive tobacco industry funding policies in place". But it said: "In six instances it was inferred that funding from the tobacco industry was not necessarily embargoed."
The six were named as Oxford, Dundee, Sheffield Hallam, Ulster and Sunderland universities and University College London.
Under the heading "institutions with negotiable policies", the report said:
"This group does have policies not to accept funding from tobacco industries, however there is still a possibility of working with such companies. This is either because the policies are negotiable or the respondent has stated that the university may consider the opportunity."
Ian Willmore, public affairs director at anti-tobacco lobbyist Ash, said:
"The tobacco industry offers anyone foolish enough to take its money a Faustian bargain - you can have the cash at the cost of your integrity.
Some universities have sufficient moral and common sense and refuse this deal, and some don't. But some universities appear to be sufficiently hypocritical to pretend that they do in public but offer to sell their souls in private."
An Oxford University spokeswoman said this week that the institution did not accept tobacco funding as a "general rule" and had not done so since the 2000 report. But she said it would be willing to put the matter to debate within the university if there were an exceptional opportunity in an area that the university "absolutely, desperately wanted to research" and where there was no alternative source of funding.
Dundee University said that it did not accept tobacco industry funding then or now.
UCL issued a statement saying that it did not allow direct investment in tobacco firms because of its extensive medical research activities.
Sheffield Hallam University said that no proposal involving a tobacco company had ever been accepted.
Bernie Hannigan, pro vice-chancellor for research and innovation at Ulster University, said: "We would not knowingly accept funding from a tobacco sector firm."
The BAT report identified 23 other UK universities, including Bristol, Manchester and Essex, that were "not likely to reject tobacco industry funding".
Some 44 institutions were identified "for which there may be barriers to interaction". But of these, the company identified 28 where these barriers "were not necessarily unsurpassable". These included Cambridge, Durham and Surrey universities.
The report said that many universities' anti-tobacco policies were set as a condition of funding from what was the Cancer Research Campaign (now Cancer Research UK). It recommended that BAT "broadcast their policies and aims"
to the CRC, to what was the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and to the Government, to try to relax such policies.
Jean King, director of tobacco control at Cancer Research UK, said the report showed it was difficult for "cash-strapped" universities to say no to the offer of funding from industry despite widely recognised ethical concerns.
"We have been trying to demonstrate that the loss of reputation would far outstrip the benefits of additional money," she said.