Universities: Anti-Semitism

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:51 pm on 12th June 2007.

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Photo of Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Labour 7:51 pm, 12th June 2007

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to contribute to the debate. I declare an interest as chief executive of Universities UK. No form of extremism or intolerance has any place in our universities. Universities are places where free debate and interchange of ideas takes place, but that must be within a climate of tolerance and mutual respect. Universities condemn any form of harassment and intimidation.

Safety and security on campus are of paramount concern. Universities UK's Promoting Good Campus Relations: Dealing with Hate Crimes and Intolerance was produced to give legal and practical advice on how to deal with hate crimes and intolerance on campus. Our Equality Challenge Unit is producing an update on that guidance, which has a specific focus on religious-related hate crimes, addressing, as we said we would, the sorts of issues raised by the all-party inquiry. That will be published in July. In addition, a regular programme of information and events keeps universities up to date on practical processes and legislation for the protection of all staff and students.

I stress "all staff and students" because when it comes to hate crimes and intolerance, universities do not distinguish between races or religions. Hate crimes and intolerance are simply unacceptable. It is good to see from the all-party report that this is not the experience of most Jewish students. The report provides examples where universities have reacted firmly to stamp on anti-Jewish activities on campuses. Universities have tightened both their procedures and reporting on these incidents, working with the police as appropriate.

I cannot conclude without addressing the proposed UCU boycott. Universities UK has made it clear that vice-chancellors would oppose any boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It would be absolutely contrary to the principles of academic freedom.

At the same time, academics have the right to question government policies, including those of the Israeli or other Governments, when they have legitimate concerns about those policies. Academic freedom must continue to cover both. I hope the Minister will reaffirm that. I am sure that a more detailed discussion between members of the all-party group and university representatives would be helpful.