The LSE is bigger than Gaddafi

Libya's rulers forgive and forget UK links with despot. David Matthews reports from Morocco

March 1, 2012

The new Libyan government will continue to send students to the UK despite British universities' links with Mu'ammer Gaddafi's deposed regime.

Abdulrazzag Giuma Altmtam, deputy minister for capacity building, said that "the UK remains the first destination [for] Libyan students".

"We will focus on training outside rather than inside [Libya] because we don't have good-quality training," he told Times Higher Education at a British Council conference in Mohammedia, Morocco, on the future of higher education in North Africa and the Middle East.

The links between the Gaddafi regime and the London School of Economics were criticised in December in a report by the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf.

The LSE had accepted a £1.5 million donation from the regime and had awarded Colonel Gaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, a PhD.

It also signed a £2.2 million contract to train Libya's elite civil servants, although Lord Woolf judged that venture to be "clearly of merit".

Heriot-Watt University and Newcastle University also educated students funded by the Gaddafi regime.

In 2010-11, 2,650 Libyan students - mainly postgraduates - studied at UK institutions.

Mr Altmtam said that "the LSE is more important than Gaddafi. We will have cooperation with this university and other universities."

Nurses and doctors would be sent to the UK, Canada and Germany for training, he said. Of Libya's institutions, he added: "We don't need more universities, but we need to enhance [their] quality."

Mohammed El-Maghairbi, Libya's deputy minister for labour, said there were plans for 600 students to come to the UK to learn English.

The government was also planning to send 40 to 45 "future political leaders" to Hiroshima in Japan to learn about political leadership, he added.

The minister explained that there would be a "big project" to expand universities and build new campuses.

Mr Altmtam explained that in 1986, Colonel Gaddafi had banned the teaching of any language except Arabic in schools and universities.

"Before that we studied English and French. We have a lot of graduates who can't speak languages. Foreign oil and petrol companies want English or French speakers," he said.

Mr Altmtam stayed in Tripoli during the conflict, which ended with Colonel Gaddafi's death last October. He had been teaching at Tripoli University and had used Facebook to spread news of the uprising, he said.

"I saw the killing myself, and the people [who] were tortured."

david.matthews@tsleducation.com.

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