Donations are badly needed by British universities to survive in the competitive world of university funding.
So, does a university reject millions of ringgits, if a despot or tyrant, offers a donation to the university?
Increasingly around the world, universities, like most other institutions, have seen their budgets slashed. They receive less money from their respective governments, so in order to survive, must employ creative methods to continue.
The bigger and more established universities, especially those with research facilities, already receive funding from big companies, for a particular line of research.
Some big names in business, who donate to their alma maters, naturally get some tax breaks, but they mainly give huge sums of money as a means of saying thank you for the grounding they received from the university, or perhaps, to provide some financial assistance to other students, who are struggling, as they were.
Malaysians, too, are known for their generosity. Many years ago, philanthropist and politician, the late Dr Tan Chee Khoon, set up scholarships in many schools to assist poor students. In addition, the top medical student at the medical facility of the University of Malaya, would receive the Tay Kim Siew scholarship, named after his mother. She had instilled in him the importance of helping others.
Universities welcome donations as governments reduce the education budget
What happens when a university is approached by donors whom they would rather not be associated with? They will be torn between receiving the money and having their reputations sullied.
Do these donations come with conditions? Should a university refuse the money, especially when the person behind the donation has been involved in human rights violations, or corruption, back in their home country? Only the naive will think that a political despot donates for altruistic reasons.
Remember Gaddafi’s link with the LSE?
In 2011, the London School of Economics (LSE) accepted a USD2.1 million donation from Saif al-Islam, son of the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.
When a video emerged, showing leading academics at LSE heaping praise on Gaddafi, an outraged British public demanded that Saif be stripped of his doctorate, because of his alleged cheating, and his links with the Gaddafi regime. Howard Davies, the Director of the LSE’s business school, issued a statement that the university’s reputation had “suffered” and he resigned.
The LSE is not the first university to receive money from dictators and corrupt leaders. Donations are badly needed by British universities to survive in the competitive world of university funding. On the other hand, the donors are keen to whitewash their reputations.
Gadaffi is not the only one desperate for respectability from academia. A few years ago, amidst protects from Malaysians, Australia’s Monash Univeristy conferred former disgraced prime minister, Najib Abdul Razak, an ‘Honorary’ doctorate. Similar honorary degrees, from other universities, have also been awarded to Rosmah Mansor, Najib and former Sarawak Chief Minister, Taib Mahmud. At the time, the 1MDB was well publicised, and Sarawak’s deforestation and treatment of its indigenous people was widely reported. Today, both Najib and Rosmah have been charged with money laundering, corruption and abuse of power.
Oxford’s Said Business School and Taib Mahmud
On 25 July 2010, demonstrators held a protest at the entrance of The University of Oxford’s Said Business School, where Taib was to deliver a talk. He had sponsored the Said Business School’s ‘Inaugural Global Islamic Branding and Marketing Forum’.
A few years later, when I accompanied Zunar to the University of Oxford, where he delivered a talk, I was under strict instruction not to show the video of his trip, and publicise it, so that the University would not get into trouble with Najib’s government. Fear of the government kept many Malaysian students away from the talk, and the few in the audience did not want their faces to be shown.
Universities desperate for cash, keep out of trouble by exercising caution. The threat of a foreign government not sending their students to a university, must weigh heavily on the minds of the University board. Many universities rely on foreign students to prop up their finances.
Nottingham University and “that” two-metre high portrait
In 2016, Nottingham University student, Cassandra Chung, initiated a petition and debate to have two metre high portrait of Najib removed from the King’s Meadow Campus. Malaysians were too scared to attend the meeting or to sign the petition, and it was alleged that a delegation from the Malaysian High Commission had travelled from London to the University, for the debate. Was this scare tactics?
In the end, the petition did not achieve its aims whilst back home it was alleged that Cassandra’s family had been villified on social media, by Umno-Baru cybertroopers.
Does money talk?
Universities which are desperate for cash, recognition and survival, whether on their home turf or in twin overseas campuses, are not immune from the scandals generated by some of their more infamous graduates.
It appears that money does talk, even to established universities like the LSE, the University of Oxford, and the University of Nottingham.
Oh yes…don’t forget that disgraced former FELDA chairman, Isa Samad, received a Fellowship from The University of Cambridge. Here is the link.
(Thank you to the various people (some unknown) whose collages were shared on FB)