Several British universities have come under pressure over their controversial links with the Libyan government.
A public outcry over donations from the Gaddafi regime to the London School of Economics has forced its director to resign. Saif Gaddafi, a son of Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi, attended to the LSE and received a Doctoral degree there. On receiving the degree, Saif Gaddafi’s foundation donated $2.5 million to the university. After the donation was revealed, Howard Davies, the LSE’s director had to step down from his office in early March.
Another Gaddafi's son, Mutassim Gaddafi, received tuition at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in 2006. Following his studies there, the SOAS announced a lucrative deal with a Libyan University whereby they would be given some $250,000 to teach a finance course in Libya.
Liverpool John Moores University declared its links with Libya even before the media found out about it themselves. John Moores was given money by Libya to run a business school, a health faculty and a car facility. Nevertheless, the university's Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Brown denied allegations of impropriety. "We have nothing to be embarrassed of whatsoever. Our work in Libya was about improving medical facilities, which are woeful," he said according to the Liverpool Daily Post.
The Prisons Studies department of King’s College in London formed a partnership with the Libya’s government to reform prisons in the country. They received money both from the British government and the Libyan government for fund that project.
Professor Andrew Coyle, director of the prison studies center was cited as saying by the Guardian newspaper: "Always when we work in problematic countries one of the first questions we ask is, are these people serious about change, or are we simply a fig leaf for a regime? They were serious about reform, and one of the first indications of this was that they accepted the suggestion that the prisons system should move from the Ministry of Public Security to the Ministry of Justice."
Moving prisons under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice is a positive step for any country that has been advised by a human rights organization.
However, under the terms of this project, the students from King’s College had no access to Abu Salim and Ain Zaratwo, Libya’s most notorious prisons, where political prisoners are often held for years without trial. It seems a huge omission on the part of the project team. But the university said it was a toss-up between doing nothing at all with the exclusion of these prisons or doing some good. Critics still say the university sold out in that case.
According to a report by the Center for Social Cohesion, many courses at British universities would be unable to run without money donated by a wide range of foreign despots. Benefactors include Iran, Saudi Arabia and China.
Iran has donated a total of quarter of million dollars across major universities in Britain – Durham University, St. Andrew’s University and the SOAS. The head of the Iranian studies in Durham said that the event which was organized by the auspices of the Iranian government was monopolized by pro-Ahmadinejad speakers. He also added that money from Iran comes with strings attached.
Saudi Arabia has given a total of $60 million to UK universities – Cambridge, Oxford, the SOAS and the University of Edinburgh. In Edinburgh and Cambridge, the money was used to build centers of Islamic studies. Saudi princes are then allowed to choose members of the management for these centers.
China has also granted a million dollars for use in forming cultural and language centers at the SOAS, Sheffield University and Edinburgh University. The Chinese government refers to these centers as part of its foreign propaganda strategy.
There is an enormous amount of concern about the money, and its probable influence on the academic independence and freedom of thinking in the British universities.