The London School of Economics (LSE) says it is reconsidering its links with the Libyan government as a 'matter of urgency' following that government's slaughter of its own people over the last few days. Those links are significant. In January 2010, the LSE accepted a £1.5m donation from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation – headed by Saif Al Islam Al Gaddafi (who has just gone on state TV to proclaim 'we will fight to the last bullet') – towards their Global Governance department; in December 2010, Colonel Gadaffi delivered a lecture via video-link; and LSE director Howard Davies has acted as an economic envoy to Libya.
Those hoping that there wouldn't be much to consider from the LSE's point of view underestimate how embedded our universities often are with Middle Eastern dictatorships. The LSE, especially, has past form. In 2006, the LSE received £9m from the Emirates Foundation, effectively an arm of the UAE government. In 2008, it named a new £2.5m lecture theatre after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the former leader of the UAE whose Zayed Center for Coordination and Follow Up 'regularly published anti-Semitic and conspiracy theory literature and promulgated anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism through its speakers and official publications'. At the time, the LSE student union executive committee said that 'to accept a donation from a state with such a well-documented history of human-rights abuses is simply unacceptable. Further, to name a new lecture theatre after a dead dictator with suspected links to Holocaust denial and antisemitism is completely beyond the pale.'
Furthermore, in 2007, the LSE Global Governance department received £5.7m from the Kuwait Foundation. Half of the members of the LSE's Kuwait programme advisory committee are Kuwait Foundation employees. And these are just some of the examples that the university actually makes public.
Universities are increasingly going to cash-rich Middle Eastern dictators to make up for funding shortfalls. In return, these dictatorships get legitimacy; its representatives are placed on university management committees; and there is evidence of the money influencing the kind of events a university puts on and the research it does. Unfortunately, the LSE's acceptance of cash from the Gaddafi's of this world is not an isolated incident.
(Further reading and a shameless plug: A Degree of Influence: The Funding of Strategically Important Subjects in UK Universities and the controversy surrounding the Iranian government funding the University of Durham this time last year).