Ashok Kumar, education officer at London School of Economics’ students union, summed up the feeling towards LSE’s dealings with Libya with this statmement: “It should be a place of learning, not at the centre of unscrupulous dealings.”
As civil war was breaking out between Muammar Gaddafi’s forces and anti-Gaddafi rebels, the British press got word of LSE’s various links with the Libyan regime. This included a £1.5m donation from a foundation run by Gaddafi’s son Saif which was used to set up a north Africa research programme. The revelations led to the resignation of the university’s director Sir Howard Davies. Much dismay was expressed at the “poor decision-making” of university management in making these funding deals.
It’s interesting that all this has become an issue at a time when higher education funding is being slashed across Britain. These cuts, while publicly linked to the usual ‘tackle the deficit’ mantra, are part of a long history of reduced state funding for universities. Both Thatcher and Blair encouraged universities to “raise their own funding, independent of government,” to quote 2003’s white paper on education. As a result, universities have offered their services to the corporate world, effectively commercialising academic teaching and research.
What’s been uncovered at LSE, then, should not strike us as either surprising or unique. In universities across Britain, funding decisions regarding questionable organisations are a frequent occurrence. The University of St Andrews is no exception.
If we are to be concerned about academia being connected to violence elsewhere in the world, we’d do well to consider our own funding sources. Freedom Of Information requests reveal that from 2000 to 2008, St Andrews received more than £10m from public and private military organisations, many of whom have deep and long-standing links to despotic regimes that repress their own populations.
Take BAE Systems, from whom we received nearly a million pounds split between different research projects on, among other things, improved sensor systems and ‘target detection’. BAE is, of course, well known for its corrupt dealings with Saudi Arabia, one of the most brutal and authoritarian states in the Middle East; but the company has also supplied Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Israel – never mind its heavy involvement, through the United States military, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Coincidentally our own university has developed substantial links with the ongoing ‘war on terror’. In 1994 ‘terrorism expert’ Bruce Hoffman left the RAND Corporation – basically the Pentagon’s think-tank – to found the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence here at St Andrews. The CSTPV has acted as an intellectual base for the US and UK governments, effectively shaping the discourse around terrorism, via peer-review journal dominance and its database of terrorist incidents, to suit our own foreign policy aims. It has also provided training for the military and companies operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has played host to a series of conferences sponsored by arms companies.
It’s fair to say that through the CSTPV, St Andrews has actively assisted in the occupation of Iraq. Janusian Security Risk Management, which boasts of being the first private military contractor to have an independent office in Iraq, has collaborated with the CSTPV in order to get “shared access to research, intelligence sources and databases, and the expertise of the [CSTPV’s] staff.”
Janusian’s managing director, David Claridge, is a co-founder of the CSTPV. Bruce Hoffman himself was for a time a senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Hoffman recommended that the occupation follow the British counter-insurgency model, a strategy perhaps best known for its promotion of dirty war tactics including covert infiltration of local populations and violent targeting of opposition sympathisers.
What makes St Andrews’ “unscrupulous dealings” different from LSE’s is that theirs are now seen as clashing with the policy aims of our elites.
The lesson of Libya, then, is that when it comes to academia, being linked to violence is frowned upon – unless it’s our kind of violence.