Recently, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has come under fire for a $3 million donation he and his wife, Akshata Murty CM ’02, gave to Claremont McKenna College (CMC) in 2018. The move has drawn criticism from some UK media and politicians, who believe the money should have been spent on the nation’s schools instead.
This criticism comes as UK primary and secondary schools continue to struggle with obtaining adequate funding. In recent years, some schools have even delayed their academic year or switched to partial or full remote learning due to the deterioration of their buildings, according to a list published in The Guardian.
Sunak’s donation to CMC was used to create the Murty Sunak Quantitative and Computing Lab (QCL). The QCL is home to high-tech computational facilities and offers one-on-one support and tutoring for quantitative issues such as mathematics, computation, statistics, programming, data analysis and visualization.
According to CMC’s website, the QCL “serves as the transdisciplinary campus hub and comprehensive support center for students and faculty seeking assistance with a broad spectrum of quantitative issues.”
Since its opening, the QCL has served as an important center for academic support on campus. Specifically, the QCL seeks to make quantitative skills accessible to all students regardless of background, including students from historically underrepresented communities.
“I think the QCL is great, and I’ve worked [there] with friends just as a study space,” said Nikhil Agarwal CM ’24, who has received help at the center. “I think the investment has definitely paid off.”
While students at CMC view the QCL as both an important resource and a convenient study space, left-leaning publication The Independent described the donation as a nonessential “handout.”
The Yorkshire Post quotes Daniel Callaghan, the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Prime Minister in the upcoming election: “While every single school across his own constituency struggles to make ends meet because of years of Tory underfunding, Rishi Sunak is handing millions of pounds to a private school in California…You couldn’t make it up. This man is out of touch and needs to go. We deserve better.”
These referenced schools were built with reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) — a lightweight construction material. The typical lifespan of RAAC is 30 years; schools were largely constructed with RAAC during the 1950s to 1990s, when the material was commonly used. At this time, it was also used to build courts, hospitals and other public buildings.
The Mirror, a UK tabloid, ran the headline: “Out-of-touch Rishi Sunak gives $3 million to US college as UK schools can’t afford basics,” decrying the use of the funds on “a mega-rich U.S. college” with “state-of-the-art chairs at £650 a throw.”
Agarwal, however, didn’t find a correlation between the donation, which was made before Sunak was appointed Prime Minister, and the state of British schools.
“I don’t think there’s any way if you are really being fair…[to] say that there’s really much connection between the donation and the state of the schools,” he said.
Maximilian Min PO ’26, an international student from the UK, felt similarly.
“Personally, I don’t believe that Rishi’s donation to CMC should be held against him: His personal, private finances do not seem related to the issue of the underfunding and safety concerns of state schools in the UK,” Min told TSL. “The issue of underfunding of schools precedes his tenure in any high-ranking office so I see nothing wrong with what he has done.”
Aside from this perceived lack of connection between events, Agarwal pointed out that the public’s opinion of this donation and their interpretation of the reasoning behind it is ultimately what matters the most in politics.
“[Sunak’s] political opponents — the Labour Party — will say that this is yet another example of the Tories choosing to prioritize their rich, wealthy friends in the private sector, rather than focus on the needs of the vast majority of working families in the United Kingdom,” Agarwal said.
Although Sunak and Murty’s donation has been highly criticized since it became public in Jun. 2023, it is not the first time that the couple demonstrated their commitment to CMC. Murty, a member of the CMC Board of Trustees since 2011, is a part of the Finance & Operations Committee and Campus Planning & Facilities Committee.
Prior to their most recent donation, she and Sunak established the Akshata N. Murty ’02 and Rishi Sunak Professorship in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and the CMC in Bangalore Program.