Leading article: As the LSE has learnt, Libyan leaders bearing gifts are also to be feared

Share
Related Topics

It is rare to find someone in public life who accepts responsibility for a mistake as frankly and cogently as Sir Howard Davies did in resigning as director of the London School of Economics over research money from the Gaddafi clan, and he deserves credit for that.

Here, at last, is someone who recognises where the buck stops and draws the appropriate conclusion.

Sir Howard's departure, however, must not be used as a pretext for sweeping under the carpet awkward questions about foreign money in British academia. So far as the LSE is concerned, it is to be hoped that the inquiry, which will be headed by the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, will sort out what was given, by whom, and how it was used, so that clarity is brought to the whole affair. But the LSE is far from alone among educational establishments in having benefited from links with Gaddafi's Libya. Nor is the colonel's the only dubious regime to have seduced British universities with its money.

If the soul-searching at the LSE encourages others to review their sources of recent funding, that is all to the good. The incentives given to universities to take any money that might be going, both in fees from overseas students and endowments, has brought about a situation where – it might seem from outside – almost anything goes.

The spotlight now cast so harshly on the LSE should prompt other establishments to ensure that the money they have so actively solicited has neither skewed academic priorities nor given the impression that degrees are for sale. Either, in the end, would prove counterproductive, as British qualifications started to lose their kudos. But such long-term considerations may not be treated as seriously as they should be, at a time when government grants and home-grown cash are running short.

A distinction is also worth making between genuine commercial contracts for education and training purposes and gifts that may conceal an ulterior motive. In an interview elaborating on the reasons for his resignation yesterday, Sir Howard Davies drew a distinction between the acceptance of a donation – which he admitted was wrong in this case – and a contract with Libya to train the country's future leaders, which he defended. That distinction is valid. It reflects well on Britain and its universities if they are chosen to educate the world's elite of tomorrow. Our military establishments have long been seen as academies for the very best; our universities are justified in seeking a similar role.

It should already be evident, however, that the links forged by the LSE and the Gaddafi family had their origins in more than mutually advantageous opportunism. Sir Howard has noted that the initial contacts received official encouragement from Tony Blair and his government, as part of the effort to bring Libya in from the cold (and profit from business) after the "Deal in the Desert" of 2004.

Sir Howard was invited to take part in official delegations, as were other members of his staff, and he became a financial adviser to the Libyan leadership. There was not just the uncomfortable fusion of personal and professional roles that Sir Howard regretted in his resignation; there was active government involvement. When the wind of change started to buffet Libya, the LSE – and how many others? – was left, embarrassed, behind.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high