A leading Scots university is being criticised for opening its doors to a Saudi military academy that trains pilots for an air force accused of war crimes.

Stirling University taught English to air force cadets from the King Abdullah Air Defence Academy in Taif, Saudi Arabia, about a year after UN investigators said air strikes in Yemen by the Saudi air force might amount to war crimes.

It is understood that the university plans to welcome cadets again this summer, despite the outcry over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the US-based journalist and critic of the Saudi regime implicated in his killing.


The students stayed in university accommodation while undertaking English classes on campus.

The delegation was from the King Abdullah Air Defense Academy in Taif, Saudi Arabia, run by the Ministry of Defense.

Critics have condemned Stirling University’s links to Saudi Arabia, however, and called for the institution to end its partnership, citing multiple war crime allegations levelled at the Royal Saudi Air Force in Yemen and the state’s record on human rights.

A UN report in 2018 said that a military coalition in Yemen led by Saudi Arabia had killed thousands of civilians in airstrikes, tortured detainees, raped civilians and used child soldiers, actions that may amount to war crimes.

There were 16 students and two adult chaperones in Stirling last year between July and August, staying in university accommodation.

The contract was delivered through the Stirling University’s joint venture with INTO University Partnerships. INTO UP and Stirling University each own 50 percent of Into Stirling LLP, which operates on campus.

INTO UP has proven controversial because it’s an-arms length firm that sets up international partnerships for students to study in the UK.

University and College Union has opposed UK universities partnering with INTO UP, arguing that joint ventures could affect their reputations.

The Saudi Air Force are slaughtering children in Yemen, including direct attacks on school buses, hospital and even funerals. To see Stirling University hosting their cadets for the sake of a quick profit is just shameful. Ross Greer, Scottish Greens

Critics of Stirling University’s venture with the Saudis include Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer who said: “The Saudi Air Force are slaughtering children in Yemen, including direct attacks on school buses, hospital and even funerals.

“To see Stirling University hosting their cadets for the sake of a quick profit is just shameful. Brutal regimes guilty of war crimes and human rights abuses should not be courted like this. Stirling University should listen to the Universities and Colleges Union and about the ethics of their arms-length partnerships.”

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade, said the contract raises “serious questions” for the university.

He added: “How much money did it make, and did anyone in the senior-management sign off on it? The Saudi Air Force has inflicted a brutal humanitarian crisis on Yemen, with grave war crimes being committed, and tens of thousands of people being killed.

“No university that cares about its global footprint should be doing anything to strengthen the regime. If Stirling University wants to present a positive picture to the world, then it must give back the money and end this appalling association.”

Eric Chester, Chair of the Scottish Peace Network, said: “The Saudi Air Force has led the terrible bombing of Yemen, which has killed tens of thousands of people and destroyed vital infrastructure. By hosting those responsible for the destruction the university is sending the message that Yemeni lives don’t matter. It must end this toxic relationship.”

A Stirling University spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on students.”

INTO UP did not respond to our requests for a comment.

The Saudi Arabian Embassy did not reply to our requests for a comment.

This story was published by The Sunday Times on 15th March 2020.

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