Marred by ties to Qaddafi's son, top London university pledges change

The London School of Economics agrees to act on a report critical of its ties with Saif al-Islam, Muammar Qaddafi's son, who gave the school £1.5 million upon getting his PhD.

Paul Hackett/Reuters
Saif al-Islam, former London School of Economics student and Muammar Qaddafi's son, gestures as he talks to reporters in Tripoli, Libya, in August. LSE has pledged to act on a report highly critical of the school's close financial ties to Libya and Saif.

One of the UK’s most prestigious universities has pledged to act on a report highly critical of the school's close financial ties to Libya and the son of its fallen dictator, Muammar Qaddafi.

The London School of Economics (LSE) said it would adopt all 15 recommendations made by former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf to tighten its ethical safeguards after it accepted a £1.5 million ($2.34 million) donation from Saif al-Islam, former LSE student and Mr. Qaddafi's son.

Saif studied philosophy at the London university between 2002 and 2008, and on the day he was awarded his doctorate, he announced the donation from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation.

But the gift was widely criticized, with students staging a number of protests over links with the Qaddafi regime. There were also concerns about the extensive "outside assistance" Saif received on his doctorate work, including unproven rumors of plagiarism.

In March, Sir Howard Davies, the LSE’s director, resigned after a UK newspaper revealed his extensive links with Libya. It was reported that he had previously taken on a role as Tony Blair’s economic envoy to Libya and as an adviser to a Libyan government investment fund. It was also revealed that the LSE had signed a £2.2 million ($3.4 million) deal to train the Libyan civil service.

After Sir Howard’s resignation, the LSE’s governing body commissioned Lord Woolf to investigate. In the 188-page report entitled "An inquiry into LSE’s links with Libya and lessons to be learned," Lord Woolf made 15 recommendations, among them a tighter code of ethics, a review of the donations policy, and clearer rules on what outside help a postgraduate student can and cannot receive.

Lord Woolf concluded that some LSE management thought Saif was a reformer and could be a "catalyst for change." But when the Libya uprising began in February, those hopes were dashed when Saif, Qaddafi's then heir apparent, pledged to crush the uprising. Last month he was captured by rebel forces in southern Libya with a wounded right hand and is now awaiting trial.

The judge said the considerable links made between Libya and the LSE from November 2001 to February 2011 had "damaged the LSE’s reputation" so much that one witness referred to the university as the "Libyan School of Economics."

Lord Woolf added: “Mistakes and errors of judgment were made and they contributed to the damages caused to the LSE’s reputation. Some were individual errors that no system can prevent from occurring from time to time… however the mistakes and errors of judgment go beyond those that could be expected from an institution of the LSE’s distinction.”

Only £300,000 of the $1.5m donation was paid to the LSE and it was eventually used for scholarships for North African students.

The LSE's new director, Professor Judith Rees, said it would implement all 15 recommendations. “The publication of this report will help LSE move on from this unhappy chapter in its otherwise celebrated history," she said. "It is consoling that Lord Woolf finds that no academic or other staff member at LSE acted other than in what they perceived to be the best interests of the school.”

The college’s students’ union which had staged sit-ins and protests at the Libyan links, said it was satisfied with the report. Its general secretary, Alex Peters-Day said, “The report’s findings clearly lay out severe problems in the way LSE has conducted itself. LSE took a gamble with its dealings with Saif Qaddafi, and the stakes were too high.”

“The report is very painful to read and is highly critical of many decisions that LSE made,” he said.

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