Ulster University senior official says promoting Pride to partnered Qatar campus is "highly problematic"

The official stated that Ulster University should be “cognisant of different cultural expectations” in communications to the Qatar campus.

Entrance of Ulster University, which has a partnered campus in Qatar, with a blue and yellow sign and a red-bricks building in the background.
Image: Via X - @CentreGlenview

During a committee meeting in February, a senior official at Ulster University said that sending communications about Pride to its partnered Qatar campus is “highly problematic”. The staff member added that, while the university should celebrate Pride, it should also be “cognisant of different cultural expectations”.

While Ulster University states that it is committed to “equality, diversity and inclusion”, in 2020 the institution established a partnership with City University College in Qatar for a range of courses delivered in the capital, Doha. At the time, the partnership faced criticism due to Qatar’s track record on human rights, given that same-sex activity is illegal in the country and punishable by prison and even death under Sharia law.

During the committee meeting that took place in February, while discussing how to tailor communications to staff and students, Ulster University’s pro vice chancellor on academic quality and student experience, Professor Odette Hutchinson, made the remarks about the Qatar campus.

As reported by BBC News NI, which received a transcript of the meeting, Professor Hutchinson stated that Doha has “some very different cultural norms and expectations” and that emails sent to staff and students caused “political and cultural sensitivity”.

The pro vice chancellor continued saying that “sending things that relate to Pride, for example, to Doha as you can probably imagine is highly problematic now”.

She added that, while the university should celebrate Pride, “we do need to be cognisant of different cultural expectations”.

In response, Patrick Corrigan from Amnesty International said that Ulster University appeared “unwilling to even mention Pride in its communications with students and staff at the Doha campus”.

“This looks very much like double standards – with a commitment to human rights and equality at home which then apparently gets jettisoned as soon as these come into contact with the harsh reality of discriminatory laws in Qatar,” Corrigan said.

He then urged the university to explain how it “safeguards the freedom of expression of its staff and students in Qatar”.

BBC News NI approached Professor Hutchinson and Ulster University for comment, receiving a statement from a spokesperson that said: “In all our communications we are mindful and respectful of religious and cultural differences.

“Student communications tend to be related to events and activities on campuses so they are segmented to be shared with students on the relevant campus.”

The spokesperson added: “We are clear on our commitments to academic freedom and freedom of expression. LGBT+ rights are central to Ulster University’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion.

“All UU students, regardless of location, are welcome to access mental health, wellbeing, disability and/or financial support through the Student Wellbeing team, who have been trained in LGBT+ awareness and work in partnership with a variety of LGBT+ organisations to ensure that UU students can access any specific support they might need,” the statement concluded.

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