Thousands call on Oxford to remove Brunei sultan’s degree

King’s College London and Aberdeen say they are reviewing honours over new law making gay sex punishable by death

April 5, 2019
University of Oxford students walking on campus
Source: iStock

An online petition calling on the University of Oxford to rescind an honorary degree bestowed on the Sultan of Brunei has already received more than 48,000 signatures.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah was granted the honorary degree of civil law by diploma in 1993.

Brunei is introducing strict new Islamic laws that make gay sex between men punishable by death.

Lesbian sex will be punishable by 40 strokes of the cane and/or a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail.

By not rescinding the Sultan’s honorary degree, the university “indicates that it is content for its name to be tied to human rights abuses and the persecution of LGBTQ+ people”, says the petition, which claims that Oxford’s “refusal to take concrete action makes LGBTQ+ students and staff members feel that their institution will never prioritise their rights on a global scale”.

Ellie MacDonald, vice-president of welfare and equal opportunity at Oxford University Student Union, said that the union “wholeheartedly support[ed] the petition”.

“All honorary degrees should reflect the ethos of the university. We want to create a safe and inclusive society for all and the people who receive this type of honour should be held to a high standard,” Ms MacDonald said.

“If they fail to meet that, as in this case, they should be stripped of their honour.”

She confirmed that the students’ union would be writing to the vice-chancellor, Louise Richardson, and the registrar, Gill Aitken, to ask them to revoke the degree.

Oxford said that it “share[s] the international condemnation of Brunei’s new penal code and back[s] the United Nations’ call to stop the code entering into force”.

“At present, the university has not taken any decision on rescinding the Sultan of Brunei’s 1993 honorary degree of civil law by diploma,” it said in a statement.

The Sultan of Brunei also has honorary degrees from the University of Aberdeen and King’s College London.

“We have acted swiftly and are part way through our process and due diligence that is required if we are to revoke an honorary degree,” an Aberdeen spokesman said.

“We take great pride in our culture of promoting and celebrating inclusivity, equality and diversity for all and anticipate we will have a decision over the course of the next week.”

A King’s spokesman said: “King’s is very proud of its diverse community and in light of these developments, the principal has raised urgent concerns with the university’s fellowships and honorary degrees committee who will be reviewing the award made in 2011.”

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