UK university’s slavery reparations agreement a first

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, seated left, vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, and David Duncan, chief operating officer of the University of Glasgow sign the memorandum of understanding at the UWI regional headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica, on 31 July to partner in a reparations strategy, witnessed by, from left, C. William Iton, UWI university registrar, Laleta Davis-Mattis, UWI university counsel, and Peter Aitchison, director of communications and public affairs, University of Glasgow.

In the first agreement of its kind, the University of Glasgow has agreed to invest £20 million in the University of the West Indies over a 20‑year period as a way of making reparations for slavery in the Caribbean.

The agreement, which was signed last week, is the first occasion where a slavery-enriched British or European institution has apologised for its part in slavery and committed funds to facilitate a reparations programme. In this instance, the two universities have adopted a regional development approach to reparations.

The sum of £20 million was paid to slave owners as reparations by the British government when it abolished slavery in 1834.

The new agreement was signed at the regional headquarters of the UWI in Kingston, Jamaica, last week by the university’s vice chancellor, Sir Hilary Beckles and David Duncan, University of Glasgow’s chief operating officer, representing Glasgow’s vice chancellor, Sir Anton Muscatelli. The terms of the agreement call for the University of Glasgow in Scotland to fund research to promote development initiatives to be jointly undertaken with the UWI over the next two decades.

The funds will establish and provide ongoing support for a jointly owned and managed institution to be called the Glasgow-Caribbean Centre for Development Research. The Centre will target and promote solutions to Caribbean development problems in areas such as medicine and public health, economics and economic growth, cultural identity and cultural industries, and other 21st century orientations in Caribbean transformation.

Negotiations on the agreement began when the University of Glasgow published a report in 2018 revealing that between the 1780s and 1880s, it received millions of pounds in grants and endowments from Scottish and English slave owners that served to enrich and physically expand the nearly 600‑year-old university.

Beckles said a university cannot be excellent if it is not ethical, and that the agreement places the university on a high moral ground.

A 2018 report published by the University of Glasgow recognised the university, while never owning slaves, had benefitted from those who did. As a result, the report said, “The strengths of our university as a centre of justice and enlightenment will be utilised to enhance awareness and understanding of our history, while moving forward in new directions to benefit the University community through an ever more diverse staff and student body, through creative relationships with new partners such as the University of the West Indies, and through study and teaching about all forms of slavery and trafficking in the past and present.”

The £20 million will be invested in policy research in science, technology, society and economy, and education and advocacy that seek to repair the consequences of slavery and colonisation. The Centre will be formally established on the two campuses in September.