Education Secretary warns universities they must adopt IHRA by end of year

Gavin Williamson has indicated he could use 'robust measures' against institutions refusing to adopt the antisemitism definition


Britain's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson arrives in Downing Street in central London on May 1, 2020. - Britain is "past the peak" of its coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday, despite recording another 674 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the toll to 26,711. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has warned university heads they have until the end of the year to adopt the internationally recognised definition of antisemitism over he will take action against them with “robust measures.”

In a letter sent to university vice-chancellors on Friday, the minister said the number of higher educational institutions who have adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism remained “shamefully low.”

A recent Union of Jewish Students survey showed that nearly 80 per cent of universities had yet to adopt the definition – which was adopted by this government in 2016, and has been widely accepted abroad.

Mr Williamson accused universities who had refused to adopt the definition of “letting down all their staff and students, and, shamefully, their Jewish students in particular”.

But in the clearest sign that the government had decided to act on the matter, the Secretary of State warned: “You should have no doubt: this government has zero tolerance towards antisemitism. If I have not seen the overwhelming majority of institutions adopting the definition by Christmas then I will act.

Laying out the “robust measures” he could use against universities refusing to adopt the definition, he said: ”If they do not demonstrate that they are taking their responsibilities in this regard seriously, I will consider going further to ensure that all providers are tackling antisemitism, with robust measures in place to address issues when they arise. I have asked my officials to explore how best to achieve this. I have asked my officials to consider options that include directing the OfS to impose a new regulatory condition of registration and suspending funding streams for universities at which antisemitic incidents occur and which have not signed up to the definition.”

The UJS survey revealed that Oxford and Cambridge were among the universities to have refused to have adopted the definition.

In his letter, Mr Williamson added: “While many universities have rightly been quick over the summer to demonstrate their readiness to take action against other forms of racism, it is frankly disturbing that so many are dragging their feet on the matter of antisemitism. The repugnant belief that antisemitism is somehow a less serious, or more acceptable, form of racism has taken insidious hold in some parts of British society, and I am quite clear that universities must play their part in rooting out this attitude and demonstrating that antisemitism is abhorrent.

“I believe sincerely that adopting the IHRA definition is morally the right thing to do. Without it, Jewish students say they simply do not feel protected, should they be subject to an antisemitic attack, whether physically, verbally or online and, sadly, we are hearing of an upturn in online incidents since the start of the pandemic.”

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