THE principle of freedom of speech has long been enshrined in UK law and it is one that is embodied within the framework of this country’s higher education institutions.
However, whilst universities, as well as being places of learning, should openly encourage debate, it is imperative they also send out a strong message that there is no place for intolerance or extremism. Which is why Government minister Chris Skidmore has rightly challenged them to do more to stamp out anti-Semitism in a letter sent to institutions this week.
It follows claims that some Jewish societies have been asked to pay up to £2,000 for their own security at speaker events on campus, a practice he has described as both prejudiced and unjust and one that could be considered discriminatory. The minister has also added his voice to Jewish students’ calls for universities to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.
Earlier this year, the Jewish charity, the Community Security Trust, released figures showing that anti-Semitic incidents in the UK rose by 16 per cent in 2018, to the highest total since its records began in 1984. At a time when there is growing concern at high levels of intolerance in this country, it is vital that this is not allowed to fester.
Of course, ideas and debate should be allowed to flourish in universities. However, it is in this context that those heading up our prestigious education institutions must take heed of Mr Skidmore’s advice, for they must ensure that our campuses offer safe spaces free from discrimination of any form.