Universities Minister Jo Johnson MP wrote a letter last week to Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK (UUK), underlining the obligation of all UK higher education institutions to tackle anti-Semitism on campus, particularly in the context of ‘Israel Apartheid Week’.
The Universities Minister said in his letter that he expected that the legal position and guidelines of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism “are universally understood and acted upon at all times” by UK universities, including policy towards events “that might take place under the banner of ‘Israel Apartheid’ events”.
The letter opened by highlighting the Government’s recent adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which is being applied by the police, councils, universities and other public bodies. It outlined the Government’s expectation that all UK universities followed the definition and had “robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law, to investigate and swiftly address hate crime, including any anti-Semitic incidents that are reported”.
Jo Johnson MP wrote that universities have a responsibility to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all students: “There is no place in our society – including within higher education – for hatred or any form of harassment, discrimination or racism such as anti-Semitism. High education institutions have a responsibility to ensure that they provide a safe and inclusive environment for all students and that students do not face discrimination, harassment or victimisation”.
The Universities Minister also emphasised in his letter that freedom of speech and academic freedom is fundamental to higher education, stating that universities have a legal duty to uphold it against students that use intimidation and violence to silence debate. Mr Johnson underlined: “Open and robust debate is how students should challenge those with whom they disagree. There is no space for students that use intimidation or violence to attempt to shut down the open exchange of ideas”.
In September 2015, the Government asked UUK to set up a Harassment Taskforce to assess what more can be done to effectively address harassment on campus, including on basis of religion and belief. This led to the publishing of the ‘Changing the Culture’ report on 21st October 2016 which offered recommendations, and UUK plan to look at the progress in implementing these in institutions.
At the end of the letter, Mr Johnson wrote that the Government will work with public bodies and communities to “tackle intolerance and bigotry in every form” as part of the “pursuit of eliminating anti-Semitism and all forms of harassment, discrimination or racism”.