An Oxford MP has condemned the Dubai government’s promotion of an Oxford University research centre, after Cherwell revealed that it did not, in fact, exist.
Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran said a press release from Dubai’s media office about the Mohammed bin Rashid Center [sic] for Future Research was ‘disgraceful’, adding that it diminished Oxford’s prestige.
A University spokesperson said it hoped the doctored images and fake press releases would be taken down “as soon as possible”.
At the start of May, the Dubai Government Media Office issued a press release regarding the opening of the “Mohammed bin Rashid Center [sic] for Future Research” at Oxford University.
According to the media release – which was also covered by outlets including The Gulf Today, Zawya, and Gulf News – the centre opened during a ceremony attended by Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, Mohammed Al Gergawi, and the Minister for Artificial Intelligence, Omar bin Sultan Al Olama.
The latter also tweeted the doctored image from his official account.
The fake release also claimed that the ‘ceremony’ was attended by “a number of representatives of Oxford University”. Cherwell understands that these ‘representatives’ were, in fact, a fellow of Magdalen College, Alexy Karenowksa, and an honorary fellow of Trinity College, Roger Michel.
Michel, a Trinity alumnus, who recently became an honorary fellow of the College, already has several links with the United Arab Emirates.
In February, president of Trinity College, Dame Hilary Boulding, attended the World Government summit in Dubai at Michel’s invitation along with two students.
Michel has since endowed a scholarship in honour of Al Gergawi that “will enable Trinity students to attend future summits in Dubai”.
Roger Michel has not responded to several requests for comment.
Karenowska, a physics tutor at Magdalen, told Cherwell: “I’m quite upset about it actually. What has happened here, as unbelievable as it sounds, is that picture was photoshopped, so the centre doesn’t exist.
“It’s not even a proposal, it’s more of a request for a proposal, so that request is outside of the University. [The Emirati officials] were in town for a visit in connection with something completely separate, and at a lab facility outside Oxford, those photographs were taken, but as bizarre as it sounds, it doesn’t exist. There’s a request for a proposal, but no money whatsoever has been received, and it certainly hasn’t opened, and the University of Oxford was photoshopped onto those photographs. I was in the photographs, but the text was photoshopped on.
“As bizarre as it seems, I don’t think it’s that much of a big deal. Obviously I’m quite upset about it, and the suggestion of a connection with the University is upsetting. But I think that it’s one of those situations where probably the person involved hadn’t appreciated how that would be interpreted.”
Liberal Democrat Layla Moran Moran said: “It’s disgraceful that Dubai is using Oxford University’s good name without prior permission.
“This diminishes the value of the university and its brand. I call on the government of Dubai to decease and I will do whatever I can from within Parliament.”
A University spokesperson said: “This is unfortunately a case of crossed wires in communicating what was a very preliminary set of discussions.
“We hope the news release will be taken down as soon as possible.”
The Dubai Future Foundation said it had been in discussions with the University about setting up such as centre, and that the announcement had been in good faith.
The Dubai Future Foundation said it had been working closely with the Institute for Digital Archaeology on a variety of projects which had led to a research group – Future Design Laboratory – being set up in the physics department.
A spokesperson said: “The Dubai Future Foundation sought to expand this partnership by renaming the lab the Mohammed bin Rashid Center for Future Design, expanding its mandate to include basic scientific research, especially in physics.”