UK universities may soon be legally required to ensure more pro-Brexit voices are heard on campus under new rules to combat “unpatriotic” and “insufficiently optimistic” discussion of the country's split from the European Union.
With most academics still firmly against the UK’s departure from the EU, there is concern among many ministers that students are getting an “unnecessarily downbeat” and “one-sided” assessment of what Brexit will mean for higher education and their futures.
Under a late amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill, universities will be required to end “partisan prejudice” against Brexit and to encourage “national unity” by ensuring all classroom discussions on the subject reflect the “exciting and unrivalled opportunities” on offer from the UK’s departure from the EU.
“Undergrads are hearing all about potential loss of access to Erasmus+ and the European Research Council, or leaving the single market, but do their lecturers ever explain the exciting free trade opportunities we could have with the titans of world enterprise, like New Zealand?” asked one pro-Brexit minister.
The amendment also specifies that a “mandatory number” of pro-Brexit voices should be invited to appear on campus. Selected for their potential youth appeal, former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, former cricketer Sir Ian Botham and Tory backbencher Sir Bill Cash are among those listed as “recommended pro-Brexit advocates”.
Universities must also fulfil a new legal obligation to host a set number of cultural events, such as dance performances, art exhibitions or pop concerts, to help explain the “multiple and far-reaching benefits” of Brexit to students.
“Ministers have been disappointed by some of the lacklustre communications from universities since we triggered Article 50 – it’s normally some unsmiling middle-aged vice-chancellor looking very uncomfortable trying to reassure students and staff they won’t be deported,” said one Westminster source.
“Universities need to do better. Why not host a pop concert on campus with some Brexit-themed songs that the kids can really relate to, such as Ed Sheeran’s Shape of EU (Undemocratic Supranational Federalist Remix), anything by hugely popular rapper Lady Sovereignty, or Sinéad O’Connor’s Nothing Compares to EU (Actually Not True as a Truly Global Britain Can Strike its Own Trade Deals)?”