Questions remain over Stirling’s role in Diplomatic Academy run by Russia-probe professor

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Mifsud LAD
Counsellor of the Russian Embassy Ernest Chernukhin (far left) with Joseph Mifsud (centre). Credit: rusemb.org.uk

Stirling University is facing further questions over its role with the London Academy of Diplomacy (LAD), which made the decision to close just one year after Stirling partnered with the institution.

Stirling launched its partnership with the LAD in 2014, with their degrees accredited by the university from that year.

A former academic at Stirling disclosed to Brig that senior members of the History & Politics department were responsible for signing off on the LAD’s teaching staff, including current head of department Holger Nehring.

LAD degrees were also subject to external evaluation prior to Stirling fully committing itself to the project, and Brig has reached out for comment from individuals involved.

From 2014, LAD was stewarded by Joseph Mifsud, the Russian professor who is listed in US court papers as attempting to connect the Trump campaign with the Russian government, with the promise of ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton.

Why did Stirling choose LAD?

Questions persist, however, surrounding Stirling’s decision to take on the institution, as official records show the company to have been in poor shape prior to the arrangement.

Filings for the LAD, owned by INTO University Partnerships, show that the organisation suffered heavy financial losses in each year of its existence, including during its partnership with Stirling University.

In July 2014, prior to Stirling taking over, the LAD posted losses of £3.8 million.

Internal communications between the LAD and Stirling staff show that the decision was made by INTO to close LAD in 2015, a mere nine months after Stirling had taken over from the University of East Anglia (UEA) in accrediting their programme.

Emails also reveal that employees at the LAD were promised full-time jobs at the academy, with the entire staff expressing shock at the closure of the institution so soon after the new partnership with the University of Stirling.

Employees were told that they were not allowed to discuss any matters relating to the LAD, and many were left puzzled as to how the academy would function for the remaining semesters.

Stirling then absorbed the final round of LAD students in spring 2016, through the university, providing them with Stirling University accredited degrees.

Shortly after, Joseph Mifsud was appointed a part-time teaching professor at Stirling, making only a few appearances on campus, including a guest lecture for International Conflict and Cooperation students in March 2016, and to help launch the department’s new Doctorate in Diplomacy.

However, in March 2017, Mifsud was installed as a full-time ‘Professorial Teaching Fellow’, one of few staff members at Stirling to have held such a title.

It is believed that Mifsud has not made any appearance on Stirling campus during his full-time employment tenure.

Mifsud’s links to INTO

The London Academy of Diplomacy was owned, and the company itself is still owned, by INTO University Partnerships.

Last month, a report by Brian Whitaker disclosed that Joseph Mifsud currently has 37,000 shares in INTO University Partnerships, an affiliate of the University of Stirling.

Mifsud received the shares in 2014, either prior to or shortly after his appointment as director of the LAD.

A spokesperson for INTO has confirmed that Mifsud received the shares as a perk, but clarifies that they are low-tier shares which do not provide him with any voting rights within the company.

Stirling’s relationship with INTO University Partnerships

Colin + McCormac
Stirling Principal Gerry McCormac (right) with INTO Chairman Andrew Colin. Credit: Stirling University

Stirling has developed a strong relationship with INTO University Partnerships in recent years.

Vice Chancellor Gerry McCormac proclaimed in 2014 that Stirling’s partnering with INTO would “achieve a step change across the University in relation to our international student experience.”

A number of joint Stirling-INTO endeavours were announced by the university.

In 2015, INTO University Partnerships launched its own centre within Airthrey Castle, the predecessor to the new INTO building which was launched earlier this semester.

Plans have also existed for Stirling to develop a ‘world-class’ London campus through INTO, offering postgraduate degrees in areas such as Business and Finance.

Little information exists on whether this campus did in fact exist, outside of academic brochures describing a ‘University of Stirling London Campus’.

There are no mentions of a London campus on Stirling’s official website.

Following the decision to close the London Academy, and Stirling’s endeavours to salvage the degrees of those students who were left stuck by the academy, Stirling continued to develop closer ties with the INTO organisation.

The new INTO building is the latest venture between the organisation and Stirling University, estimated to have cost £6.5 million.

This building has been heralded as INTO Stirling’s new ‘full-time’ academic centre on campus, a facility to provide international students with the ‘opportunity’ to study at Stirling.

In an official press release, the university states that the opening of the building will help to “deepen” their partnership with INTO.

The event was attended by Vice-Chancellor Gerry McCormac, INTO officials, national politicians and the Earl of Wessex.

It is unknown whether Joseph Mifsud still owns his shares in the INTO organisation.

Mifsud’s resignation

Mifsud resigned from his role of teaching fellow at the University of Stirling last week, with no further explanation provided by the University.

The university has refused to comment further on the Mifsud story, declaring that they had “nothing to add” to their previous statement confirming his then-employment in October 2017.

His staff webpage has since been deleted from Stirling’s website.

You can read more Brig’s reporting on this developing story here, here and here.

Brig Newspaper has approached the University of Stirling for comment.

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