Campus anti-Semitism must be stamped out, says universities minister

By Judith Burns
Education reporter

image copyrightSTEVE BRADING
image captionIn February, students at Essex university held a rally in support of a new Jewish Society

Universities in the UK must do more to stamp out campus anti-Semitism, says a government minister.

In a letter to vice-chancellors, universities minister Chris Skidmore said it was "unjust" that some Jewish groups had been asked to pay up to £2,000 for their own event security.

The move comes amid ongoing concern about university free speech.

Mr Skidmore met Jewish students on Thursday to hear their concerns and experiences of campus anti-Semitism.

He said that expecting Jewish groups to fund their own security when they invite speakers on to campus could amount to indirect discrimination.

In the letter, he told vice-chancellors: "There is no place in our society for hatred or any form of harassment and it is frankly appalling that the battle against anti-Semitism still exists.

"Free speech is vital to the independence and innovation that embodies the higher education sector and it must be protected.

"Not only does it fuel academic thought, but it contributes to a collective feeling of tolerance and acceptance in our universities that challenge injustice.

"In this context, it is unacceptable to oblige certain groups of students to incur additional costs because of their race or religion, just to counteract the actions of others."

Daniel Kosky, campaigns organiser of the Union of Jewish Students, said he was grateful that Mr Skidmore "has acted on a number of our recommendations, including supporting the removal of prohibitive security costs for Jewish Societies".

He added: "Jewish students have long called for institutions to adopt the IHRA definition and we now expect universities to follow the government's call, after the recommendation of Universities UK and the Office for Students, among others."

'Understanding and tolerance'

Last year the Office for Students provided £480,000 for 11 projects tackling religious-based hate crime in higher education.

The project at King's College London includes recognising the needs of religious communities within a university, strengthening reporting mechanisms and supporting new facilities, as well as building awareness, understanding and tolerance of different faiths.

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: "This crucial work by everyone involved will help tackle anti-Semitism and hopefully contribute to a safer environment on campus for students."

In a statement, Universities UK said: "We recommend universities do all they can to tackle anti-Semitism, including considering the IHRA definition, while also recognising their duty to promote freedom of speech within the law.

"UUK has set up a taskforce to consider what can be done to address all forms of harassment, violence and hate crime on campus, including on the basis of religion.

"The taskforce published a comprehensive report Changing the Culture in 2016 which included a strategic framework along with recommendations for the higher education sector to prevent and respond effectively to all forms of harassment.

"Our work in this area is ongoing."

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