Follow the Money Trail – London School of Economics (LSE) and Libya

26 02 2011

It is disturbing to be reading foreign policy news this week given the continuous influence that money plays. In this blog, discussion is Money vs. Values.

The case in question is the relationship between London School of Economics (LSE) — an important world-wide-known educational institution, the ruling family of Libyan dictators and indirectly the British strategic interests with this oil producing country.

The three above mentioned players/ issues find themselves at cross-section of so called “capacity building”, the term often used in international development / foreign policy — as to refer to “assistance that is provided to entities/ societies in developing countries, which have a need to develop a certain skill or competence.”

LSE has taken the Libyan dictator’s family grant money from Gadaffi “International Charity and Development Foundation” amounting to no less than 1.5 million pounds to set up its “North Africa Research Centre”  — that is to research human rights, democracy and civil society.  Gadaffi Charity was run by Saif Gaddafi, Gadaffi’s son who is also an LSE graduate.

The LSE grant has been structured by the best minds of LSE, which today comprises 16 Noble prize winners.  Today, this structuring move looks rather like a run-in at the Caesar Palace.  Certainly, these kinds of fund raising moves are guaranteed not to be neither ‘sustainable’ nor are they considered as ‘long-term capacity building’ programs.

In its capacity, LSE has been running training courses for mid-level Libyan civil servants. As we hear it through the grapevine (see previously referenced blog), some of these programs were funded by UK Foreign Office, and the topic of these programs was Public Administration.

At the time of grant acceptance, of the original donation, LSE emphasized that ‘It is quite clear that not only is the donation acceptable, it should be encouraged. This is exactly the kind of organization the School should be associated with – a group struggling for justice under what continues to be, despite reforms, a repressive and brutal regime.’

Now that the dictator is no longer in favor, his money has been/will be frozen, LSE strategically and decidedly severed relations with the grant-or, and hence at the same time has put a fast break on their North African Research Centre.  This is done sadly, at the time when Libya needs capacity building the most.

LSE has indeed been very transparent about its day-to-day activities concerning this matter, informing via press releases about Student Union’s dissatisfaction concerning this matter, and reminding the Student Union about their wide support for the program back in 2009.  Yet another snippet of LSE management’s capacity besides ‘building’ is to play its hand at internal and very ‘defensive’ type of politics with its Student Union.

The grant funding may certainly end up becoming a monetary as well as a political liability for LSE, as students are asking for a conversion of grant money expended into “Scholarship fund for Libyan students.”

Hypo-criticism of educational institutions, usage of everyone and anyone’s grant money primarily as a leverage to expand into the growing emerging markets– comes at a cost.  A real cost is that LSE may get caught up in a political whirlwind — with its reputation, should it still hold value in today’s society, at stake.

While 1.5 million pounds may not a large amount of money for an endowment valued at 72 million pounds, this raises a timely question — when greed enters the doors of our foremost educational institutions — who takes the responsibility?  This incident proves to be a double-edge sword, for education, for LSE, for Libya and for the United Kingdom.

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