The government has for the first time publicly named universities that have hosted speakers voicing views that are “contrary to British values” as it introduces a duty on institutions to counter “extremist” speakers on campus.
King’s College London, Kingston University, Soas and Queen Mary University of London were identified as holding the most events where speakers “aimed to undermine core British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs”.
The list, released today by the government’s Extremism Analysis Unit, also names eight Islamic terrorists or foreign fighters who had studied at British universities. In 2014 there were at least 70 events held on campuses that featured “extremist” speakers, the analysis found.
In a statement, prime minister David Cameron said “all public institutions have a role to play in rooting out and challenging extremism”.
“It is not about oppressing free speech or stifling academic freedom, it is about making sure that radical views and ideas are not given the oxygen they need to flourish,” he continued.
From 21 September all UK higher and further education institutions will be required by law to make sure “extremist” speakers’ views are challenged at events, as well as making proper risk assessments of those invited.
The naming of universities coincides with a row between the universities minister Jo Johnson and the National Union of Students over the new rules, part of the “Prevent” programme to tackle radicalisation.
Mr Johnson has written to the NUS to say that “we all have a role to play in challenging extremist ideologies” it was “disappointing to see overt opposition to the Prevent programme”. But an NUS spokeswoman said the body had “legitimate concerns” about the impact of the new rules on student welfare.
“Criticism and debate is at the heart of the policymaking process, and so we would encourage government to listen and reflect on the legitimate concerns that exist to their agenda, rather than attacking organisations for simply not agreeing with their approach,” she said.
According to Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, the new rules will “close down debate and create mistrust between teacher and student”.
“Universities and colleges rightly cherish, and must continue to promote, academic freedom as a key tenet of our civilised society. It is essential to our democracy and right to freedom of speech that views are open to debate and challenge within the law,” she said.