MP Robert Halfon puts pressure on universities to make anti-semitism pledge

News / Sun 11th Oct 2020 at 02:19pm

THE Minister of State for Universities has insisted the government is “actively exploring” measures to make sure the internationally recognised definition of antisemitism is adopted by the UK’s higher education institutions reports The Jewish Chronicle.

Michelle Donelan MP said she wanted all universities to adopt the International Holocaust Remember Alliance (IHRA) definition – but said she recognised that a succession of letters from politicians – including Secretary of State Robert Jenrick – to the heads of the institutions had “not shifted the dial.”

Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Select Committee,  raised the issue with the Universities Minister after a survey commissioned by the Union of Jewish Students, published last week, showed just 29 of 133 higher education establishments confirming they had recognised the definition.

The Harlow MP pointed out that among those universities not willing to adopt IHRA were Oxford and Cambridge.

He added: “Universities seem to be very active in terms of pulling down statues, but when it comes to the Holocaust so many seem prepared to turn a blind eye. Is this not shameful?”

Responding, Ms Donelan said: “I want to see every university adopting this definition – so did my predecessors who have written several times to the universities on this matter, including the Secretary of State, I believe.

“It has not shifted the dial. We are not seeing enough of these universities adopting the definition, it is not good enough.

“I am now looking at other measures that we can utilise to make it happen. My message today is to urge universities to do this or we are going to look for solutions to ensure that you do so.”

Mr Halfon mentioned previous comments by Communities Secretary Mr Jenrick over the possibility of introducing fines or funding cuts for those institutions not adopting IHRA.

Asked what measures of enforcement she preferred, Ms Donelan said it was a “bit early to pre-empt exactly what measures we would use.”

But Mr Halfon questioned how soon the government might act on the matter.  The minister said they were “actively exploring” the response that would be taken.

Last week Mr Jenrick said he was  “extremely disappointed” by the findings of the UJS survey.

The UJS called for “a culture change” after accusing  more than 100 educational institutions of “defying” the government’s repeated call to adopt the definition.

Eighty universities responded to a Freedom of Information request to say they had no plans to adopt the IHRA definition, while 17 said officials intended to discuss it the coming months.

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