London university calls for £100m slavery reparation

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education and family correspondent

Universities in the UK which benefited in previous centuries from the slave trade should contribute to a £100m fund to support ethnic minority students, says a university leader.

Geoff Thompson, chair of governors of the University of East London, says it would be “ethical and right” for universities to contribute.

He says it would help young people who otherwise could not afford to graduate.

Last month, Glasgow University revealed it had received slave-related funding.

Glasgow University discovered that up to £198m in today’s value had been donated in the 19th Century by people who had profited from the slave trade.

In response it announced a “reparative justice programme”, including creating a centre for the study of slavery and a memorial to the enslaved.

‘Historic opportunity’
But Mr Thompson says there should be a collective university fund to support today’s black and ethnic minority students through university.

The University of East London has been sending Freedom of Information requests to other UK universities to see if their institutions had received money from the slave trade between the 16th and 19th Century – with the findings to be gathered next month.

He said in the wake of the Windrush scandal, it was “prescient, ethical and right” to “seize this historic opportunity to invest in those who cannot afford or cannot see themselves graduating with a life-changing qualification”.

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Mr Thompson says that even if universities are too recent to have been open during the slavery era, many might be a continuation of older institutions that could have benefited from profits from slavery.

“Every university has historians, archivists and researchers who can help institutions inform them about their past,” said Mr Thompson.

“It is about how seriously we take the past to inform our future, and what we can do to help change lives.”

In the United States there have been arguments over how to reconcile universities with historic links to slavery and slave-owning.

Georgetown University has given extra support in its admissions process to the descendants of a group of slaves sold by the university in the 19th Century.

Harvard University put up a plaque in commemoration of slaves who had lived and worked at the university.

The university also ended the use of “master” in academic titles, because of connotations of slavery.

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