13 May 2013 at 4pm

BBC News: 'Extremists' preaching to UK student societies

13th May 2013

An anti-extremist group claims preachers it describes as radical Islamists have spoken at 180 events at 60 universities in the past year.

Student Rights also said a quarter of the student union society events it scrutinised promoted separate seating for men and women.

The group said some universities failed to uphold gender equality rules.

UK universities say they work closely with student bodies to balance freedom of speech and upholding the law.

But Students Rights claims a new generation of "extremist" speakers are touring campuses to spread their version of Islam.

It defined these as anyone who had made racist or intolerant comments, including incitement to violence or encouraging individuals to look at YouTube clips of terrorist activity.

And it pointed to what it said was an increasingly worrying trend of gender segregation at student Islamic Society events.

It highlighted 277 events promoted in UK and Irish universities where segregation was alluded to, either directly or through policies stated elsewhere. And 180 of these were on UK campuses.

Six of the events were subsequently cancelled, and two institutions, UCL and the University of Leicester, have since announced investigations into the segregated meetings.

Director of the self-styled campus watchdog Raheem Kassam said: "What we have shown in this report is that gender segregation and discrimination on UK university campuses is not simply an increasing trend, but one that is growing despite universities being aware of the incidents.

"This is a deeply disturbing revelation, as campuses across the country are supposed to be committed to ensuring that students are not discriminated against, be it on the grounds of race, religion, sexuality, gender or otherwise."

He added that university authorities were failing to address these trends.

He said with many of these speakers' views being well-documented, "a little Google search about what these guys are speaking about would not hurt anybody".

The report urged institutions to communicate repeatedly during the academic year the necessity for student bodies to meet equality and diversity policies.

But Universities UK chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: "Universities are places of critical thinking and vigorous debate, where ideas can be challenged and explored openly. Institutions have a legal obligation to promote free speech, and that may involve allowing controversial, indeed sometimes offensive, opinions to be expressed.

"Where universities can and do draw the line is in preventing speakers who break the law. When illegal behaviour is identified, there is good liaison with the police and security services.

"Universities are gaining more and more experience in handling these issues and have developed guidelines in relation to inviting external speakers. Universities UK issued guidance to all universities on the subject in 2011."

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it did not intervene or set guidelines on segregation or extremist teachings on campus.

A Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry last year concluded that while all universities had to be aware of the issue, they found that the focus on universities had itself been disproportionate.