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London’s Gaddafi-funded university: business as usual in the UK

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2011-05-20

The director of one of London’s top universities was forced to quit Thursday amid an embarrassing controversy involving the Libyan regime and some potentially iffy donations that raise questions over who is funding the UK’s most prestigious schools.

Esteemed economist Howard Davies has resigned from the London School of Economics (LSE) amid growing speculation over its dealings with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, including a £1.5 million ($2.4 million, €1.8 million) donation from his son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who obtained both his masters’ degree and a Ph.D. from the school.

A LENGHTY AFFAIR

2003:

Saif al-Islam Gaddafi graduates from the LSE with a master’s degree in philosophy, policy and social value.
 
2007:
LSE accepts £50,000 from Libya in return for advice from director Howard Davies on Libya’s multi-billion sovereign wealth fund, which had dealings with BP and financed Juventus football club and Italian oil giant Eni.
 
2008:
Saif Gaddafi begins a Ph.D. in philosophy at the LSE.
 
2009:
LSE’s North Africa programme is set up with a £1.5 million grant from Saif Gaddafi’s International Charity and Development Foundation, to be paid over five years.
 
21 February 2011:
After days of unrest in Libya, the LSE suspends the North Africa programme with £300,000 of the £1.5 million so far received. The LSE also cancels a £2.2 million study programme for Libyan officials (£1.5 million of which has already been paid). 
 
3 March 2011:
LSE director Howard Davies resigns over scandal.
 
4 March 2011:
LSE commissions independent investigation into donations and "academic authenticity" concerning sections of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s thesis.
Davies, who served as director for over seven years, said that it would be difficult for him to defend the LSE – now under independent investigation – as it was he who advised the school’s council to accept the money from the Gaddafi family.
 
Such strong ties between an internationally renowned London business school and what is largely considered a brutal and autocratic regime in Libya sent ripples through the British press on Friday. But the news did not surprise British university professors.
 
“This is business as usual,” explains Susan Robertson, a sociology of education professor at the University of Bristol and author of “Corporatisation, Competitiveness, Commercialisation: New Logics in the Globalising of UK Higher Education”. “As far as universities are concerned, alumni are a legitimate source of funding, and Saif Gaddafi’s donation came under that category.”
 
Hugh Willmott, a research professor at Cardiff University, told FRANCE 24 that the country’s best-performing institutions were also the most “vulnerable” to wealthy prospective students. “If you wish to purchase legitimacy, then the most prestigious universities are all likely to be your priority targets.” Willmot authored a report on the commercialisation of higher education in 1998, when funding patterns began shifting.
 
In bed with Gaddafi – who’s to blame?
 
In his resignation letter,  Davies admitted that his advice on the £1.5 million donation “turned out to be a mistake”, but denied willful wrongdoing, saying “there was nothing substantive to be ashamed of” concerning his advisory work for the Gaddafis.
 
Willmott blames a broader acceptance of the Libyan regime in Britain: “LSE and other universities should not be heavily criticised for ‘getting into bed’ with Gaddafi when the UK government was pursuing such a friendly foreign policy towards Gaddafi and others in the region,” he wrote.
 
Meanwhile, UK universities are finding themselves in an increasingly difficult situation concerning funding, with the government slashing 40% of the higher education budget as part of a mass austerity programme.
 
“If you look at the kind of environment UK universities find themselves in, I don’t blame them,” Robertson says. “Most of them get only a minority of their funding from the government, so senior managers have to look into diverse streams of financial support for their institutions to survive. Unfortunately for the LSE, they were pushed down a path that led them to a grave error in judgement.”
 
Photo courtesy of Flickr user alvez.

Date created : 2011-03-04

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