Ulster fears as Saudi partner's assets are frozen

August 20, 2009

A Saudi conglomerate with close ties to the University of Ulster has had its assets frozen, raising fears of knock-on effects on the university's finances.

The Saad Group, an investment organisation, has had $9.2 billion (£5.5 billion) frozen by a Cayman Islands court following a legal battle with another Saudi conglomerate. The order prevents Saad and its associate firms from selling their assets.

The group donated a large sum to Ulster in 2008 to build and equip its pharmacy building at the Coleraine campus.

The university has also signed a lucrative contract with Saad to deliver nursing training to students in Saudi Arabia.

Times Higher Education was contacted by a member of staff at Ulster, who expressed concern that income from the group may dry up as a result of the asset freeze.

Questions have also been posed by Lyn Fawcett, vice-president of the Ulster branch of the University and College Union, who said the union would like to know more about the relationship and "the dependence the university has on any funding stream and how it might be affected".

However, Ulster said its relationship with Saad was firm.

A spokesman said: "The Saad Group's commitment to the university has been significant and our partnership is continuing as before, both in terms of the group's significant commitment to our pharmacy programme and our contract to provide nursing training in Saudi Arabia in association with the Saad Specialist Hospital."

He said the pharmacy building had been completed, and that the facility would be ready for use in September.

The university's involvement with Saad, which has interests in the healthcare, education, tourism, IT, banking and finance sectors, has proved controversial in the past.

In 2007, it emerged that Richard Barnett, Ulster's vice-chancellor, and two of his senior management team had accepted gifts of Rolex watches from the group.

The university said it could have caused offence if they had refused the gifts.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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