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Higher Education: Anti-Semitism

Volume 507: debated on Monday 15 March 2010

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills what steps he (a) has taken and (b) plans to take to deal with anti-Semitism (i) on university campuses and (ii) in student unions; what recent discussions he has had on this issue; and if he will make a statement. (321837)

This Department has set up a group on anti-Semitism and higher education to facilitate discussions between the Jewish community and higher education stakeholders, which I chair. This group covers all issues relating to anti-Semitism on campus and plays an important role in helping to tackle anti-Semitism in higher education. The two meetings that have taken place have resulted in practical actions to be taken forward by higher education stakeholders and Jewish community representatives working collaboratively.

I also attended the recent Jewish student Lobby of Parliament in February 2010 where I heard from students about their experiences at university and made clear once again the Government’s strong opposition to anti-Semitism and any form of racism in higher education.

I was appalled at the rise in total anti-Semitic incident figures shown in the recent Community Security Trust annual report, in particular the very disturbing 38 incidents against one academic.

However, the overall trend in HE showed a 13 per cent. decrease from 2008.

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills what meetings have been held of the higher education sub-group of the cross-government working group on anti-Semitism since January 2009; who from each Civil Service grade attended each meeting; what was discussed at each meeting; what further meetings are planned; and if he will make a statement. (321838)

There have been two meetings of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ (BIS) anti-Semitism and higher education group, in April 2009 chaired by me and in November 2009 chaired by my noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Postal Affairs and Employment Relations and by Martin Williams, the Director for Higher Education in BIS. At each meeting a ministerial private secretary was present and also a policy official (higher executive officer). A further meeting is due to be arranged for spring 2010.

The first meeting discussed anti-Semitic incident monitoring in higher education (HE), and how this was reported by students. The second meeting included updates from members of the group on their wider work on equality and diversity, including tackling anti-Semitism, and on the recent guidance for students, “A Student’s Guide to Antisemtism on Campus”, produced by the Union of Jewish Students and the Community Security Trust. Both meetings resulted in agreement to a number of practical actions which are being taken forward by HE stakeholders and the Jewish community.

We are committed to encouraging higher education institutions to ensure discrimination has no place in any of their policies or practices and to act swiftly when incidents or complaints are brought to their attention. One of the most important ways of tackling any form of racism in our universities is to ensure there is a dialogue between the universities, students and minority communities and this Department has been instrumental in fostering communication between the Jewish community and higher education. An important part of this work has been the establishment of the BIS anti-Semitism and higher education group, which brings together student representatives, representatives of the Jewish community and key HE sector bodies.