V-cs, Muslim leaders meet PM

September 8, 2006

Tony Blair has personally intervened in the battle to rid campuses of Muslim extremists, with universities invited to a meeting with Muslim community leaders at 10 Downing Street, writes Claire Sanders.

Les Ebdon, Bedfordshire University vice-chancellor and author of a Universities UK guide on good campus relations, was due to attend the meeting this Thursday.

Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, said the Prime Minister was keen to have a dialogue with universities. "We are facing a real but not widespread threat from radical Islamic groups seeking to radicalise students on university campuses," he said.

The Downing Street meeting was aimed at improving community engagement generally, with university campuses expected to be one part of the discussions.

Mr Rammell toured UK universities after the July 7 bombings last year and gave a landmark speech in May when he talked of groups with dangerous views gaining a foothold on university campuses. He added this week: "Feedback from Muslim groups is that radical groups are operating on campuses and Muslim parents tell us that their children go off to university and return radicalised... This is a small minority, but it is a minority that needs to be tackled."

The Home Office and police forces are drawing up guidance for universities on how to deal with this problem. Mr Rammell said he would meet with UUK next week. "This is very much a partnership between the Department for Education and Skills, the Home Office, police and universities," he said.

Mr Rammell is also planning a series of meetings around the country this year to further involve Muslim groups in discussions with higher education institutions.

A spokesperson for UUK said: "Universities are not complacent... we take the issue very seriously and are being proactive in our ongoing discussions with the DfES. We are not aware of any evidence of a significant, widespread problem on campuses but UUK is very happy to work with the DfES and Home Office in whatever way we can... to counter the terrorist threat."

The spokesperson said UUK was encouraging vice-chancellors to take part in the minister's programme of discussions.

Ruth Kelly, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, last month called for greater supervision of student organisations by local mosques.

Concerns about student extremism were sharpened when one of those arrested last month in connection with an alleged plot to blow up passenger aircraft was revealed to be a student at London Metropolitan University and president of its Islamic Society.

Mr Rammell has set up a review into the teaching of Islam on UKcampuses, which will produce an interim report by the end of the year.

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