Gaddafi affair shows we must be clear and robust about ethics

The LSE made mistakes in its links with Libya, as Lord Woolf found. Judith Rees, its director, says it will learn from those failings

December 1, 2011



Credit: Paul Bateman


The publication of the report of Lord Woolf's inquiry into the London School of Economics' dealings with Libya marked a sad day for the school.

Lord Woolf has uncovered a series of errors on the part of the LSE concerning its links to Libya, Saif Gaddafi and his PhD, and our decision to accept a donation from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation. We have accepted all Lord Woolf's recommendations.

I am aware, however, that the episode will raise questions for the higher education sector as a whole. So how does the LSE intend to respond to these issues and ensure that our decision-making processes are robust?

First and foremost, Lord Woolf has criticised the LSE's management and governance. He calls on us to develop an embedded code dealing with ethics and reputational risk that applies across the institution. In doing so, he refers to Ethics Matters: Managing Ethical Issues in Higher Education, a report published in 2005 by the Council for Industry and Higher Education, which found that the ethical guidelines applied by universities tended to be fragmented, with policies being produced by different departments in an ad hoc fashion.

The LSE has always sought to define its values, mission and strategic goals; but we have failed, as Lord Woolf spells out, to ensure that those values are upheld throughout the institution. "Developing such a [code] and ensuring it is widely publicised should encourage an institutional culture in which ethical and reputational issues are openly discussed," he argues. The LSE will establish a subcommittee of council to take this forward.

On the PhD, Lord Woolf does not find on its authenticity, as that is a matter for the University of London; he does, however, offer a careful examination of our actions in dealing with Saif Gaddafi. On his admission in 2003 to study for a PhD, Lord Woolf writes: "It was agreed by all that Saif was still not in a good position to write a dissertation with the usual amount of supervision, but he could do so with extra teaching." The LSE's department of government - Saif's first choice - was not prepared to make an arrangement to support him that was not available to all students, whereas the philosophy department was willing to make this extra investment as it did the same for other students lacking a strong background in the discipline.

A clearer picture of the external assistance that Saif received became apparent only when his emails were examined in 2011. Lord Woolf acknowledges that it would have been difficult for his supervisors to contravene data protection rules and scrutinise his emails on the evidence they had before them, but he is clear that there were a number of warnings that the LSE did not take sufficiently seriously.

On this front, we have already brought in a number of reforms. Earlier this year we were visited by the Quality Assurance Agency, which wrote: "For current research students the school has well-established, clearly written and easily accessible regulations, procedures (which include complaints and appeals) and codes of practice." We will build on this.

On the way in which we handled the donation from the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, Lord Woolf is damning: "The mistakes in presenting the gift to council were legion." We have already been working on an up-to-date policy on donations, with a clear procedure for scrutiny and clear lines of responsibility as set out by Lord Woolf.

The work of LSE Enterprise, which trained Libyan professionals and civil servants for the National Economic Development Board in Libya, was described by Lord Woolf as "clearly of merit". He makes the point, however, that Saif Gaddafi appeared to be behind the offer of the contract, and that the LSE should extend the principle that no major gift can be accepted from a current student to include contracts as well. We will do that.

I would also like to reaffirm the LSE's commitment to undertake the difficult task of educating and training people in crisis states or states in turmoil. As one interviewee told Lord Woolf: "Education makes people free...Inevitably some government clients will be from developing nations whose governance is of questionable integrity. As an educator, I find it risible to refuse an opportunity to teach public servants from these regimes. They are exactly the people LSE should teach." I could not agree more.

The LSE was founded by the Fabians more than 100 years ago to bring academic expertise to bear on the problems of society, and in 1922 we adopted as our motto the phrase "rerum cognoscere causas" - "to know the causes of things". We must now learn from our mistakes over Libya to safeguard and continue this great tradition.

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