Universities: Anti-Semitism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:47 pm on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of Lord Patten Lord Patten Conservative 7:47 pm, 12th June 2007

My Lords, as a Roman Catholic, I have no particular partial interest to declare in this debate. I have three things to say. The first is that I believe that the idea of a boycott is entirely abhorrent. Exchange is always better than exclusion. The arguments put forward by those who suggest that there should be a boycott of Israeli universities are generally worthy of a mark equivalent to gamma minus given on a good afternoon during this examination season. They ignore the fact that intellectual endeavour is enforced by the hot wires which run between academic journals and academic conferences and which link people together. Engagement is always better than exclusion.

Secondly, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that the National Union of Students has a most important role to play in this issue. I hope that the Minister and the others involved will talk to members of the NUS and encourage them to talk to their elders and not so betters who have put forward these very anti-progressive ideas. I am reinforced in this by having visited my daughter at her university last Friday and having talked to her and a number of her friends. It is clear, to use my daughter's words, that they believe in "boundaryless education" and that nothing should be put in the way of the free exchange of intellectual ideas.

Thirdly and lastly, I have a minor criticism of the report, to which the noble Baroness has drawn our attention, in that it refers to some vice-chancellors not having been very helpful or robust in this issue. It must be very difficult to be a vice-chancellor. It must be like trying to herd a lot of anarchic and self-willed cats through a very small hoop. But there are people who can help them—a class of people who have not been brought into the public gaze. I refer to the Medici-like, magnificently gowned and embroidered figures, the chancellors of our universities, who should be acting very much more as chairmen of the supervisory boards. They should be behind the scenes, taking vice-chancellors aside, stiffening them up and saying that, at worst, it is a matter of fund-raising and, at best, a matter of morality and freedom of education. Does the Minister feel that chancellors could do more in this respect and will he get in touch with them to urge them so to do?