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University of Bristol: Students

Question for Department for Education

UIN HL13646, tabled on 24 February 2021

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the statements by Professor David Miller about Jewish students; and what discussions they have had with (1) the University of Bristol, and (2) the police, about the steps being taken to ensure the safety of such students.

Answered on

16 March 2021

The government abhors antisemitism in all its forms and has for several years pushed for greater action from higher education providers in addressing it. This has included encouraging them to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, in order to have universal clarity of what constitutes antisemitic behaviour.

The government expects universities and other higher education providers to comply with their legal duties on discrimination and harassment, as well as their legal duties to protect free speech. Universities must balance the exercise of their legal duties, including on a case-by-case basis.

We expect higher education providers to be at the forefront of tackling antisemitism, making sure that higher education is a genuinely fulfilling and welcoming experience for everyone.

All higher education providers should discharge their responsibilities fully and have robust policies and procedures in place to comply with the law, to investigate and swiftly address hate crime, including any antisemitic incidents that are reported. We expect higher education providers to have robust policies and procedures in place to address staff disciplinary issues.

All higher education providers have procedures for handling student complaints and, if students are unhappy with their experience, they should use the processes in place to complain formally to their provider outlining their concerns. Where a student complaint cannot be resolved through the institution’s complaint processes, a student at a provider in England and Wales can ask for his or her complaint to be reviewed by an independent body, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education. Students also can and should inform the police if they believe the law has been broken.

With regards to the case of Professor David Miller, universities are independent and autonomous organisations which are responsible for the management of their own affairs and for meeting their duties under the law. Accordingly, the government has not intervened directly in this case. It is the responsibility of the University of Bristol to determine whether or not Professor Miller’s remarks constitute lawful free speech. In doing so, the government’s view is that they may wish to consider, in particular, his remarks about current students at the University of Bristol. It is important to distinguish between lawful, if deeply offensive, views on the one hand, and unacceptable acts of abuse, intimidation, and violence on the other.

Regardless of whether or not it is found that Professor Miller’s conduct constitutes lawful free speech, the government considers that the University of Bristol could do more to make its condemnation of that conduct clear to current and future students and to show its commitment to creating a welcoming environment for Jewish students. The government considers Professor Miller’s views to be ill-founded and wholly reprehensible, and wholeheartedly rejects them.