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Written by Student Rights on 1 December 2011 at 4pm

LSE and Libya Report: FCO tried to influence Oxford University

On Wednesday 30th November, the London School of Economics released the Lord Woolf report after an inquiry into the links between the university and Libya under Colonel Gaddafi. Campus watchdog, 'Student Rights' yesterday released a statement concurring with the recommendations outlined in the report with the additional recommendation of revoking Saif Gaddafi's PhD. You can find the initial press release here.

Further reading of the report reveals damning evidence of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office attempting to use British universities to effect foreign policy goals. Quoted straight from the report, Lord Woolf writes on page 28 (footnote 12):

"I am also told that Saif had been most keen to study at Oxford University. Dr Alia Brahimi described to me how he was interested to discuss Oxford with her, because he had hoped to study there, as she had. Professor Fitzgerald, head of Department of International Development, University of Oxford told the Inquiry that in the spring of 2002, he was contacted by a senior civil servant at the Foreign and Commonwealth office (“FCO") to enquire if they could admit Saif to the MSc in Development Economics, or failing that, to the MPhil in Development Studies. It was made clear, he told me, that the FCO would appreciate help in this case since Libya was opening up to the West again. Professor Fitzgerald tells me he told the FCO that the “bottom line was whether [Saif] had adequate prior academic qualifications for entry... this is not only an issue of professional ethics, but also that under-qualified students struggle to keep up with the intense pace of Oxford postgraduate study.” The FCO provided information about Saif’s prior academic qualifications. Professor Fitzgerald told the FCO that an application by Saif to do an MSc at Oxford would be unlikely to prosper on their basis because Saif had no social science training, and his prior degree did not meet the requisite quality standard. he told the Inquiry the FCO accepted that and the matter was taken no further."

Student Rights, a campus watchdog has insisted that British universities should not be used by the government for geopolitical gain. Researcher Rupert Sutton said:

"Politicising university admissions policies through government pressure muddies the waters of academia and compromises the independence of British universities. There should be a full investigation into this matter alone to ensure that no government department is able to influence the manner in which university places are allocated."

Speaking initially about the inquiry's findings, Raheem Kassam director of Student Rights said:

"Lord Woolf's report outlines the dangers faced by UK universities in accepting private and more importantly, foreign funding. The LSE is not in isolation in this, however it provides the clearest and most egregious example of systemic failures to address numerous concerns flagged by academics and LSE Council members at the time.

Saif Gaddafi received preferential treatment and on the day he was awarded his PhD, made a £1.5m donation to the university's Global Governance department. In anyone's eyes, this looks suspicious and telling of an organisation that simply had not done its homework on the matter.

We recommend that the LSE revoke Saif Gaddafi's PhD immediately, in line with our recommendations.

The report also highlighted that lines of communication were not good enough at the university, with Adrian Hall, director of Administration telling Lord Woolf that he had 'not appreciated just how extensive the LSE's involvement with Libya had become'. Director at the time, Sir Howard Davis (now resigned) said that he was not even aware of Saif Gaddafi's presence at the university during his MSc year 'until he heard the name “Gaddafi” called, and handed Saif an MSc at his graduation ceremony'.

Student Rights have since released various reports into university funding across the United Kingdom, highlighting issues with Durham University and the Iranian government, Saudi Arabia and the School of Oriental and African Studies, and Exeter University and Gaddafi's regime.

The full report of the inquiry can be found here.