Universities and Gaddafi: is there more?

Rob Halfon

Rob Halfon

The MP driving the investigations into the Gaddafi regime's controversial relationship with British universities has pledged to expose the full extent of their Middle East funding.

Robert Halfon, whose own grandfather was forced out of Libya in 1968, has made Freedom of Information requests to 100 of the country's top universities asking them to divulge all donations received from the Middle East and North Africa over the past
decade.

He said he was concerned whether there could be a connection between funding from the Middle East and extremism on campus.

Mr Halfon has also asked the universities to outline whether the donations came directly from governments and whether they were used to create a new department, fund an existing department or establish a fellowship. The Harlow MP has also tabled a series of questions across five government departments and the Prime Minister's Office to establish the lengths to which government ministers and officials went to facilitate business and academic links with the Gaddafi regime.

London School of Economics director Sir Howard Davies was forced to resign earlier this month after it was revealed that the institution had agreed to take £1.5 million from the Libyan dictator's son, Saif al-Islam.

Mr Halfon has now turned his attention to a number of other universities. These include Liverpool John Moores University (JMU), which has Libyan connections via its Business School and Faculty of Health and Applied Social Science. The university has made a robust defence of its actions, saying it was backed by the Foreign Office and the British Council.

Mr Halfon has been threatened with legal action by the university if he repeats his claims about these links. In a statement, JMU said: "We have no reason to be ashamed of these activities. They have been conducted scrupulously with good partners aiming to improve the situation of the Libyan people and with the full support and encouragement of the UK Government and associated agencies." The university was set to earn £1.2 million to deliver degree programmes at Alfateh Medical University in Tripoli, but it is not known how much was eventually brought in from the contract.

Mr Halfon's inquiries will focus on concerns raised by a 2009 report by the Centre for Social Cohesion into Middle East funding. This includes the estimated £75 million given to the Oxford Centre of Islamic Studies by a dozen Muslim countries, and the £16 million donated by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, to similar centres at Cambridge and Edinburgh.

He believes that the University of Durham may also have serious questions to answer about its memorandum of understanding with the Iranian government to publish joint books and organise conferences, research and exchange programmes.

And Mr Halfon wants to learn more about the European Muslim Research Centre at his alma mater, Exeter University.

The centre's co-director Robert Lambert is the former head of the Muslim Contact Unit at the Metropolitan Police, who earned a reputation as the "Islamist cop", encouraging dialogue between government and radical Islam.

Its advisory board includes Anas Altikriti, former head of the Muslim Association of Britain, which represents the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood in the UK, and Basheer Nafi, who was accused by the US in 2003 of being a leading figure in Palestinian Islamic jihad, although he has always denied this.

Former Labour Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane MP said: "Universities have turned a blind eye to the provenance of the money they have accepted from authoritarian rulers and businessmen who depend on non-democratic regimes to make money. The LSE, one of the centres of the anti-Israel boycott movement, has been hoisted by its own petard by taking money from Colonel Gaddafi and his family."

John Mann MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, said: "At a time when our campaign to crack down on campus hate speech is building, this is an important step in scrutinising and understanding the contexts in which higher education institutions operate.

"Rather than importing monies from dictatorships, UK universities should be enacting and exporting best practice, such as how to create proud and diverse campus communities. "

Carly McKenzie, campaigns director of the Union of Jewish Students, said: "This is just the latest in a series of blunders by British universities. More consideration needs to be given by universities to the company they keep, the speakers they host and the cheques they bank.

"Our primary concern is the impact this money has on the campus atmosphere and consequently the welfare of Jewish students."

Last updated: 2:43pm, March 10 2011