Oxford University has announced that it will review its decision to grant an honorary degree to the Sultan of Brunei in light of new laws which will make homosexuality punishable by stoning to death.
The move comes in response to a global boycott campaign in response to the harsh new laws. The University was criticised this week for not immediately following the example of King’s College London and the University of Aberdeen in announcing a review.
A statement on Wednesday in which the University announced it had not made any new decision regarding the Sultan’s honorary degree provoked a backlash from students, activists and MPs.
More than 56,000 signed a petition calling for the University to rescind the degree, a call which was echoed by the Students Union.
Pressure on the University reached a crescendo yesterday as both of Oxford’s MPs, Layla Moran and Anneliese Dodds, urged Oxford to revoke the degree. The MPs wrote: “It is time to listen to your University community and your conscience.”
They continued: “It is not enough simply to pay lip service to advocating for LGBTQ+ rights. Refusal to rescind the honorary degree to many people implies a tacit endorsement of Brunei’s anti-LGBTQ+ stance and a failure to stand up for the rights of the international LGBTQ+ community.”
Speaking to presenter Nick Robinson on Radio 4’s Today programme, journalist and former Oxford student Owen Jones spoke in support of the petition: “Oxford University shouldn’t be handing out honorary degrees to despots and dictators anyway, but Oxford University now has to make a statement that gay lives matter by stripping this.
“There are other problems as well, for instance the fact that there’s huge amounts of money from the Saudi royal family, another regime which, of course, kills gay people. For the Ashmolean museum and Said business school – Saudi money ploughed in there.”
Robinson replied: “Which may be one reason they’re a little nervous.”
Jones argued that the University should go further than a review: “They need to make clear that they stand with gay people and that means they need to immediately rescind it. Aberdeen University have also given an honorary degree to the Sultan, and they’ve said they’re reviewing it. That’s not good enough either.
“There are lots of gay students from all over the world at Oxford University. They need to know that their university, which has huge international kudos, is prepared to make a statement, prepared to make a stand.”
The Sultan’s son and heir Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah graduated from Magdalen College in 1997.
The University has been contacted for comment.