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Director Of Prestigious UK University Resigns


Financial ties to Libya have become a major issue for one of the world's most respected universities. The London School of Economics in Britain is at the center of a storm over its decision to accept a lot of Libyan money. In particular, money from an organization run by one of Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's sons.

Here's NPR's Philip Reeves in London.

PHILIP REEVES: Charlotte Gerada spent four years studying at the London School of Economics. She's proud of that. So when she found out her university has accepted millions of dollars from Libya, it was a nasty surprise.

Ms. CHARLOTTE GERADA (President, Student Union): A real shock. When I applied to LSE, I was real excited to come, I've come from quite a challenging personal background. So it was a really big thing for me to come here. LSE should have known better. It should have thought: What is going to happen to the reputation of this university, and what are we going to get out of it?

REEVES: Gerada's general secretary of the LSE's students' union and a strong critic of the university's ties with Tripoli.

Ms. GERADA: I just think it's totally hypocritical for the LSE, which prides itself of principles of democracy and social justice, to build these links with a country, even if, at the time, it seemed like it was on the right track.

REEVES: The controversy over Libya's donations to the LSE is shaking the entire academic world and has divided opinion within the university itself. The LSE's director, Howard Davies, has resigned. Davies admits advising the school to accept nearly two and a half million dollars from a foundation run by Gadhafi's son, Saif. Davies says this turned out to be a mistake, so he felt he had to go.

Mr. HOWARD DAVIES (Former Director, London School of Economics): Because the reputation of the school is my responsibility, and it has been damaged, and I think I need to take the responsibility for that.

REEVES: Whilst LSE director, Davies became the British government economic envoy to Libya and ended up advising the Libyans on investments. Davies says that was a mistake, too.

The school landed a contract with Gadhafi's government worth several million dollars to train hundreds of top Libyans in the private and public sectors. This Davies defends, saying the LSE chose the trainees, not the Libyans, and there were no conditions attached.

The issues here are complex. Some argue that programs like these serve to strengthen civic society within oppressive regimes.

Ms. POLLY TOYNBEE (Columnist, The Guardian): The resignation of the head of LSE is a monumental event.

REEVES: Polly Toynbee, a columnist for The Guardian newspaper, says the LSE is taking the hit for a practice that's widespread and well-known in Britain.

Ms. TOYNBEE: It's not as if people didn't know that large sums of Libyan money were pouring into LSE, and indeed, you know, some of the money from all sorts of unsavory sources probably into lots of other universities. The question is: Why wasn't it a scandal at the time when Gadhafi gave the money, at the time when his son was allowed to have a dubious Ph.D.?

REEVES: That Ph.D. was awarded to Gadhafi's son, Saif, in 2008. He was a student at the LSE for several years. Back then, Saif was generally seen as pro-Western and progressive. These days, he's an ardent defender of his father's dictatorship.

Allegations are circulating that Saif's thesis, which was about the democratization of global institutions, was ghost-written. The LSE has promised to investigate; it'll be part of an independent inquiry it's commissioned into the school's Libyan ties.

Ashok Kumar of the LSE student union says he's not accusing anyone of anything, but adds...

Mr. ASHOK KUMAR: If it comes to light that the university in essence is trading a degree for large donations, then that jeopardizes the entire academic institution and the degrees that come out of here, and the Ph.D.s that people slog over for years and years. For us, this kind of cuts to the heart of what kind of institution we are.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.