A senior Foreign Office civil servant is alleged to have made enquiries attempting to gain a place at Oxford for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.
Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s recently ousted leader, wanted to study either for an MSc in Development Economics or the MPhil in Development Studies. However Oxford refused the proposal and Gaddafi instead went to the London School of Economics, whose links to the former Libyan regime are currently under scrutiny.
Lord Woolf’s Inquiry, commissioned by LSE to establish the facts of their previous involvement with Libya and to establish clear future guidelines, found that “approximately six weeks after Saif’s doctorate was confirmed he was asked to give a donation [to LSE].” The figure of Â£1.5 million was promised in July 2009, the same day as Gaddafi completed his PhD.
Oxford’s involvement in the event is revealed in a footnote to the LSE inquiry, with Professor Fitzgerald (Head of Oxford’s Department of International Development) revealing the initial approach from the Foreign Office to Oxford in Spring 2002.
The Foreign Office, he reported, were seeking help in admitting Gaddafi because “Libya was opening up to the West again.” However their approach was rejected, with FitzGerald revealing that the “bottom line was whether [Gaddafi] had adequate prior academic qualifications for entry.” He stated, “This is not only an issue of professional ethics, but also that under-qualified students struggle to keep up with the intense pace of Oxford postgraduate study.”
Upon hearing of Gaddafi’s academic qualifications FitzGerald told the foreign office that an application was unlikely to succeed, since he had no social science training and his prior degree did not meet the quality standard. His advice was accepted and Oxford had no further involvement.
Upon hearing of the request, St Hugh’s student Oliver Persey stated that the incident displayed “a lack of respect for the integrity of higher education establishments if the Foreign Office believes that a university will admit a student for any reason apart from academic ability.”
Danielle Bunting of Wadham concurred, arguing, “The government shouldn’t be allowed to attempt to give anyone a leg-up getting into university, let alone the son of an evidently very dangerous dictator, for the sake of building a few business links with the country.”
Pembroke’s Charlotte Tarr suggested that it was “an insult to the students who have worked exceptionally hard to get their places.”
Other students thought that Gaddafi’s application should have been rejected purely based on his background. Yajur Shah, from Keble, argued that “admission as a postgraduate at Oxford University should take into account your past activities, especially if they could have serious implications for other people in the world. A Master’s degree from Oxford could qualify someone to do a great deal of good or bad in the world and I’d personally prefer it if it were the first.”
An Oxford University representative reported that this was a one-off event and reiterated that admission policies had not been compromised, stating, “Admission to Oxford is based solely on academic considerations, and this is a very important principle. It would not be influenced by factors outside of academic ability and potential, of this or any other kind.”