Pressure grows to turn down BAT grant

January 19, 2001

Nottingham University came under renewed pressure from cancer research chiefs and academics this week to reconsider its acceptance of £3.8 million from British American Tobacco.

The Cancer Research Campaign, which donates £1.5 million a year to the university, is balloting its volunteers nationally on whether it should take more steps to register its disapproval.

CRC director-general Gordon McVie asked volunteers gathered in Nottingham at the first of six regional meetings how they felt about CRC funds going to the university in the light of BAT's donation for an international centre for corporate social responsibility.

Professor McVie said he hoped to have completed the ballot by the month's end. The CRC council would then decide what to do.

"I am asking them whether they feel there is a point of principle here, and are we being used by the university as part of a campaign to improve the respectability of the tobacco industry. I want to know whether they think we should go further than just ensuring a physical separation between our science and tobacco-funded research," he said.

Professor McVie said the CRC was still awaiting a decision by the university on whether to put the BAT name on any of the new centre's chairs or scholarships. "If they did that, they would be in clear breach of the protocol agreed between us and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. We would then have to reconsider the protocol."

Professor McVie said two CRC grants for research at Nottingham had been renewed recently. They were in health sciences, where some academics had already registered their objection to BAT's funding in a letter to The THES . "The grants are supporting five-star people who were not consulted by the university on the BAT funding decision," Professor McVie said.

Meanwhile, academics canvassed by the Association of University Teachers have voted to ask the university to reconsider its acceptance of the BAT donation. Of 188 academics responding to an email ballot, 166 supported a motion proposing that the BAT money be rejected and that the university set up an ethics committee to consider any similar controversial decisions in future.

Malcolm Stevens, co-director of Nottingham's cancer research laboratories, said: "This donation has been damaging for the university and will continue to get more embarrassing as time goes by."

A spokesman for Nottingham University said: "The university believes that it has acted within the CRC protocol. A decision on the chairs has yet to be made."

Charity seeks clarity over cancer funds

The United Kingdom's biggest cancer research charity has asked the government to clarify its position on funding for cancer research, writes Caroline Davis .

At a House of Commons debate last week, Yvette Cooper, parliamentary under-secretary of state for health, said the government was increasing its funding to at least match the voluntary sector. But the Imperial Cancer Research Fund is concerned that the government has set no date for when this will take effect or said how rates will be calculated.

MPs were debating issues arising from a select committee report, Cancer Research - A Fresh Look, that was published last summer. It criticised the government for giving only half as much money to cancer research as is received from charitable donations.

Ms Cooper confirmed government support for the creation of a National Cancer Research Institute, which would coordinate all cancer research in the UK, similar to the US National Cancer Institute.

Trustees from the ICRF and the Cancer Research Campaign will meet this month to discuss a possible merger. The ICRF owns labs and employs scientists directly, while the CRC gives grants to institutes, hospitals, universities and medical schools. Merging could streamline research but could lead to lower levels of donation from the public, an ICRF spokesman said.

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