Students attack 'weak' college hate report

A report on tackling extremism and hate speakers at British university campuses has been widely criticised as weak and ineffectual.

Universities UK, the umbrella group representing university heads, published its findings following a year-long investigation. It said it could find "no simple answers or absolute rules".

Freedom of speech on campus: rights and responsibilities in UK universities, sets out brief guidance on dealing with controversial speakers, protests, student societies and serious incidents on campus.

But the report gives the green light to universities to continue inviting radical speakers by encouraging institutions to "engage" with them.

Campuses should not block freedom of speech

Professor Malcolm Grant, who chaired the working group, said: "Views expressed within universities…may sometimes appear to be extreme or even offensive. However, unless views can be expressed they cannot also be challenged."

Carly McKenzie, Union of Jewish Students campaigns director, said: "If UUK believe that checklists and flowcharts are the solution to campus hate speech and extremism, they clearly do not understand the severity of the problem.

"UUK have failed to provide any clear, practical guidance to the sector on the issue of hate speech and extremism on campus. The report provides no answers whatsoever, is disappointing and lacks the substance and conclusions that we had hoped to achieve."

Lord Carlile, who oversees the government's Prevent counter-terror strategy, said the report was "weak" and totally failed to address the problem of students being radicalised while on campus.

The publication appears to put universities out of step with the Prime Minister, whose Munich speech earlier this month stated ministers would no longer engage with those holding extreme political views.

One example of a Jewish community raising concerns with an institution about the impact of a speaker on the university's Jewish students was included in the report.

It also lists numerous cases of anti-Israel and antisemitic activity as examples of incidences where universities have had to take action.

Prof Grant said universities took the responsibility of safety and security of staff and students seriously.

He added: "Universities must continue to ensure that potentially aberrant behaviour is challenged and communicated to the police where appropriate.

"But it is emphatically not their function to impede the exercise of fundamental freedoms, in particular freedom of speech, through additional censorship, surveillance or invasion of privacy."

The report acknowledges that incidents in the Middle East are a serious source of flashpoints on British campuses, and new methods of protest such as flash-mobs and lecture theatre occupations pose fresh challenges.

One case study considers a student union dispute between a Palestinian solidarity group and a Jewish Society.

It looks at how the university should maintain freedom of speech while avoiding unlawful race and religious discrimination. It presents the possibility of a university adopting a code of conduct allowing criticism of Israel, but not permitting antisemitism.

Last updated: 2:18pm, February 24 2011