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On our funding, independence and academic integrity

Following an article in the Daily Mail we were criticised by Migration Watch for our funding sources. We would have preferred to avoid a direct dispute with a pressure group, but it is time to set the record straight.

First, the University of Oxford has robust procedures in place for accepting donations and research grants from a wide variety of sources, and for refusing donations and research grants that would undermine the University’s mission (see, for example, the University’s Donor Charter). The funding for the Migration Observatory has been so approved, and its researchers conduct their work with the high standards of academic integrity demanded of Oxford academic and research staff.

Second, the Migration Observatory has always been clear about its funders. It is funded by Unbound Philanthropy, Barrow Cadbury Trust, and the Princess Diana of Wales Memorial Fund, as well as hosting particular projects funded by the ESRC and the University of Oxford Social Science Division through its Oxford University Press John Fell Fund.

“Changing Minds”, on the other hand, is not a funding body, and it is not accurate to claim otherwise. A small number of foundations have looked for a source of scientifically reliable and academically credible research and evidence on migration data and trends and have made grants to the University of Oxford to provide this source through the Migration Observatory.

The Migration Observatory “does what it says on the tin”. Our terms of reference from the beginning were to provide an impartial, objective source of data and analysis on migration relevant to the UK debate. We have done that. Our work has been cited broadly including by Migration Watch and multiple times by newspapers across the political spectrum, including the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Express and the Telegraph.

No organisations have found evidence of bias or lack of rigour in our work. A recent external evaluation (conducted by the firm Firetail, and based on anonymous interviews with a variety of stakeholders with a variety of political views) confirms the quality and impartiality of our work.

In addition to contributing original research, the Observatory plays a crucial role in the dissemination of academic research. The Observatory communicates research results from experts across the University of Oxford, generates research ‘impact’ in line with public funding council (HEFCE) guidelines for the Research Excellence Framework and fulfills the function of ‘knowledge exchange’ as set out in scientific research councils’ best practice and in Oxford’s own guidelines as well.

As a part of the University of Oxford, the Observatory provides an outlet for a wide range of Oxford scholars from many different disciplines and perspectives. These scholars have worked with us to reshape their research articles into forms that are designed to communicate with broader audiences. All briefings and commentaries are subject to a stringent internal process of peer review.

The Observatory has established strong research credentials, with original research and funding proposals that have been recognised through the academic peer review process as attaining the highest standards of excellence in UK social science.

The Observatory’s research projects include original survey research that has led to a forthcoming publication in a highly-ranked political science journal, and a project in progress that examines media coverage of migration. Its research and knowledge exchange work has gained funding in competitive, peer-reviewed processes both internal and external to the University of Oxford.

It is crucial to the quality of the national debate on migration, and indeed to policy-making, that we have an independent, impartial source of evidence that can be used by all sides in the public debate on migration. We hoped that Migration Watch, like many other NGOs as well as government departments, parliamentary committees, and media organisations, would welcome the addition of an independent, reliable source of data and evidence on the migration debate, and continue to be puzzled why this apparently is not the case. Migration Watch cite the Migration Observatory when it provides evidence that supports the Migration Watch position (see here and here), and condemn the Observatory as biased when it does not (see here and here).

That inconsistency may be the prerogative of pressure groups but it is neither a recipe for an evidence-based debate, nor a principle that academic organisations at the University of Oxford would recognise. The Migration Observatory consistently provides impartial, independent, authoritative, evidence-based analysis of data on migration and migrants in the UK. As a part of the University of Oxford and its Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society, the Observatory adheres to the very highest standards of academic rigour and integrity.

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This Migration Observatory is kindly supported by the following organisations.

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