Cambridge tackles ethics code after Vodafone row

October 20, 2000

Cambridge University is drawing up ethical guidelines for its business affairs after protests over controversial financial and commercial deals.

The governing council is setting up a working party to write an ethical code of practice after lobbying by student union president Mat Coakley.

The decision, prompted by a recent £750,000 endowment from arms manufacturer GKN, comes as the university faces controversy over a deal with telecoms giant Vodafone, of which vice-chancellor Sir Alec Broers is a non-executive director.

Vodafone will supply the infrastructure to allow Cambridge staff and students to develop phone applications. It will deploy two test networks in the Cambridge area and will provide phones to staff and students for test purposes.

Two student newspapers have questioned Sir Alec's role in the deal. Vodafone paid Sir Alec £35,000 in the year to March 2000, its annual report shows.

The controversy has centred on reports that the deal would mean that Cambridge students would be given free mobile phones. The university denies that all students will be given phones, but Vodafone has confirmed that it will be "working with (handset) manufacturers to ensure that sufficient phones are available to carry out the trials".

"Vodafone is providing a network, rather than a large number of handsets to students," Sir Alec told The THES.

A Vodafone spokesperson said: "At the moment the, arrangement is to provide the infrastructure. There are no contractual agreements to intellectual property rights. We are encouraging technological advances at the university and at companies in the area."

Martin Saunders, editor of The Cambridge Student, said: "The link (with Vodafone) is undeniable. The university line that Sir Alec's two roles are distinct and that this deal would have gone through with or without his help is dubious.

"That said, the technological implications are exciting. It is not what is going on that is raising concerns, but the way in which proceedings have been conducted."

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