Posted tagged ‘London School of Economics’

Tainted money?

March 20, 2011

As recent events in Libya unfolded, one story that got a fair amount of air time was the donation to the London School of Economics of money from Saif Gaddafi, son of the Libyan leader. Inevitably of course further investigations by journalists have revealed other donations and grants from the region, including a research grant accepted by Durham University from the Iranian government, and another Libyan payment made to Liverpool John Moores University for developing a teaching programme for a local university.

If journalists keep sniffing around they will find more. However, we should beware just a little of the righteous indignation that this sort of story seems to encourage. As higher education in parts of Europe and America interacts much more closely with the rest of the world, it is going to come into close contact with governments without any great democratic credentials. Mostly we don’t care that much. Nobody was saying a word about Libyan links three months ago, though some of them were well known. But in fact there are teaching and research links with dozens of countries that don’t even aspire to (never mind practise) European-style liberal democracy. While it is embarrassing no doubt for the LSE to have footage broadcast on television of an event in which academics made obsequious comments to the Libyan leader, that probably could have been any university.

It is of course shocking that Colonel Gaddafi was willing to turn his guns on his own people; but rather than come over all indignant now it would be far better to have a clearer think about the appropriate response to offers of financial support from governments whose democratic credentials are in question (whether currently involved in violent attacks or not).


Considering Howard Davies

March 4, 2011

The Director of the London School of Economics (LSE), Sir Howard Davies, has resigned from his post, an unexpected casualty of the popular uprising in Libya. He had accepted Libyan money on LSE’s behalf, and had acted as adviser to Gaddafi’s government. As the Libyan rĂ©gime suddenly began to look toxic, the role played by Howard Davies in creating this link for the college became a serious problem, and he resigned.

Two issues arise from this. First, there is Howard Davies himself. He was no typical university head, having been a senior public servant as well as a businessman and business representative (he was, amongst other things, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry and chairman of the Financial Services Authority). As head of LSE he was seen as a tough manager but also a sympathetic leader, and I believe was on the whole liked and respected by the academic community. However, his business background may have contributed to the Libyan misjudgment. The debate about the best credentials for university leaders will continue, with Davies as a mixed-message example.

Secondly, what position should universities adopt in their relations with other countries? Is there a ‘liberal democracy test’ that should be applied before any relationships are forged? If so, does that imply a cultural as well as political frame of reference? Might it look as if, for a European university, it is not safe to do business with any country outside of Europe and North America? That LSE should now withdraw from all Libyan links is understandable and right. But how judgmental should we all be that these links were created in the first place? And what should other universities now be doing in reviewing their portfolio of global partnerships?