My degrees ‘owned entirely’ by LSE, SOAS: Varun Gandhi

Reacting to the report in The Indian Express (Varun told HC he has degrees from LSE, SOAS; institutions says he does not, March 30, 2008), Varun Gandhi, the BJP candidate from Pilibhit, arrested under NSA for his alleged hate speech, has said that he did receive these degrees.

The following is an excerpt from his letter sent to the newspaper via his aunt Ambika Shukla:

"I emphatically confirm that I studied for a Bachelors degree in economics from the London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) and a Masters degree in Public Policy and Management from the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS). I received a Bachelor of Science (Economics) on August 1, 2002 sponsored by the LSE and a Master's Degree from SOAS in 2004. Both documents are available for verification. Both external degrees are sponsored by these institutions, taught according to their own internal standards and are examined by academics at the LSE and SOAS. These are not honorary degrees, nor are they available to purchase for a fee. They enjoy exactly the same academic and intellectual standing as degrees awarded to internal candidates taught on-site.

"This information was re-confirmed to us in the case of the LSE by its External Study office, which operates from within the LSE administrative complex. It is a degree "from" the LSE, as Shri Gandhi's lawyer's affidavit to the court states though it is not taught "at" the LSE. Both these degrees are taught off site, but owned entirely by the two institutions concerned, something the LSE website confirms. 

"Until relatively recently all degrees after study at the LSE, SOAS as well as other affiliated colleges of the University of London were awarded by the University of London, as in the case of the degrees he earned, and not the individual college where they were taught. My degrees can only be considered non-LSE and non-SOAS in a narrowly technical sense unless all degrees earned at the LSE before the late 1990s and formally awarded as University of London degrees are to be similarly repudiated.  

"I chose to remain in India because of personal family commitments and professional imperatives. I hope that my example will encourage other potential Indian students to study for international courses locally, without incurring the huge costs that travelling abroad entails for their families and the country's precious foreign exchange resources. 

"I am given to understand that certain people have been motivated to sign false petitions insinuating that I have falsely claimed to possess academic qualifications that I do not have. They are doing so at a time when my detention constrains my efforts to defend my good name and the honour of my family. Such acts of malice have no place in a fair and just society."

Reporter Vinay Sitapati replies:

It is a fact that even regular students at SOAS and LSE got their degrees (until recently) from the University of London. The Indian Express report did mention that Gandhi's degree was from the University of London.

Gandhi says his courses were "developed" and "assessed" by SOAS and LSE, and so these are "exactly the same" as degrees awarded to regular students of these institutions.

However, the University of London also controlled Gandhi's "admission" and "registration" into his courses. The "off-site" nature of the course meant that Gandhi was never registered as part of the student body of SOAS or LSE (or for that matter, the University of London), was not on campus, and did not attend any classes. In the opinion of the LSE and SOAS faculty and officials the report quoted, this meant his degree was not "from" their institutions.

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