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Sir Howard Davies, the director of the London School of Economics, has at last done the honourable thing and resigned from the university’s governing council. The LSE’s shameless prostituting of its good name in return for Muammar Gaddafi’s blood money (as the Tory MP Robert Halfon has rightly called it) is as great a betrayal of the spirit of a university as there has ever been in Britain.
But while it will take the LSE quite some time to regain a seat at the table of respectability, it is not the only university that has reason to feel ashamed. The LSE is said to have received no more than £300,000 of the £1.5 million it was due from Libya.
Yet, on the most conservative estimate, other British universities have received hundreds of millions of pounds from Saudi and other Islamic sources – in the guise of philanthropic donations, but with the real intention of changing the intellectual climate of the United Kingdom.
Between 1995 and 2008, eight universities – Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, University College London, the LSE, Exeter, Dundee and City – accepted more than £233.5 million from Muslim rulers and those closely connected to them.
Much of the money has gone to Islamic study centres: the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies received £75 million from a dozen Middle Eastern rulers, including the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia; one of the current king’s nephews, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, gave £8 million each to Cambridge and Edinburgh. Then there was the LSE’s own Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, which got £9 million from the United Arab Emirates; this week, a majority of the centre’s board was revealed to be pushing for a boycott of Israel.
While figures since 2008 have yet to be collated, the scale of funding has only increased: such donations are now the largest source of external funding for universities by quite a long way. The donors claim that they want only to promote understanding of Islam – a fine goal for any university.
But the man who gathered the earlier figures, Prof Anthony Glees, argues that their real agenda is rather different: to push an extreme ideology and act as a form of propaganda for the Wahhabist strain of Islam within universities. They push, he says, “the wrong sort of education by the wrong sort of people, funded by the wrong sorts of donor”.
This is not simply scare-mongering. The management committees of the Islamic Studies centres at Cambridge and Edinburgh contained appointees hand-picked by Prince Alwaleed. Other universities have altered their study areas in line with their donors’ demands. And it works.
A study of five years of politics lectures at the Middle Eastern Centre at St Antony’s College, Oxford, found that 70 per cent were “implacably hostile” to the West and Israel. A friend of mine, a former Oxford academic, felt that his time was largely spent battling a cadre of academics overwhelmingly hostile to the West, in an ambience in which students – from both Britain and abroad – were presented a world-view that was almost exclusively anti-Western.
Although much of the money is claimed to be directed towards apolitical ends, this can often be misleading. The gift by foreign governments of language books, for instance, can have a significant effect on what is taught; in one case, the gift of an art gallery was found to have had a direct impact on teaching and admissions policy.
This is all so easily done because there is no requirement for serious scrutiny of either the source of funding or its impact on research. As a report from the Centre for Social Cohesion puts it, our universities “are now effectively up for sale to the highest bidder”. If the LSE’s actions have a saving grace, is that they could help to expose the wider scandal surrounding the behaviour of UK universities.