Glasgow University has completed a “bold, historic” move to atone for its historical links to the transatlantic slave trade by paying £20m in reparations.
It signed an agreement with the University of the West Indies to fund a joint centre for development research, at a ceremony in Glasgow on Friday morning.
Glasgow University discovered last year it had benefited financially from Scottish slave traders in the 18th and 19th centuries by between £16.7m and £198m in today’s money.
In what is thought to be the first attempt by a British university to set up a programme of restorative justice, it has pledged to raise £20m for the centre, chiefly in research grants and gifts.
Other British universities, including Oxford and Bristol, have been the focus of protests over their ties to the slave trade and to powerful colonialists, such as Cecil Rhodes.
In 2017, All Souls College at Oxford launched an annual scholarship for Caribbean students and paid a £100,000 grant to a college in Barbados, in recognition of its funding from Christopher Codrington, a wealthy slave owner who bequeathed £10,000 in 1710 to build a library that bears his name.
The Glasgow agreement was first signed in Kingston, Jamaica, on 31 July. Prof Sir Hilary Beckles, the vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies, said it was a “bold, moral, historic step”.
Glasgow University played a key role in the abolitionist campaign of the era but until recently Scotland’s profiteering from slavery, including from tobacco and cotton plantations, was largely ignored. One of its former rectors was Robert Cunninghame Graham, who spent two decades making his fortune as a slaver.
Graham Campbell, a Scottish National party councillor who became the city’s first councillor of African-Caribbean descent in 2017, welcomed the agreement.
“Our mutual recognition of the appalling consequences of that past – an indictment of Scottish inhumanity over centuries towards enslaved Africans – are the justifications that are at the root of the modern-day racism that we fight now,” he said.
“This action is a necessary first step in the fight against institutionalised racism and discrimination in Scotland and the UK and for the international fight for reparative justice.”
Prof Anton Muscatelli, the principal of Glasgow University, said it was fitting the final ceremony took place on the same day as the International Day of Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.
“Talking about any institution’s or country’s historical links to slavery can be a difficult conversation, but we felt it was a necessary one for our university to have,” he said.