SOAS hosts more ‘extremist speakers’ than any other university

The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has welcomed more extremist speakers to talk on its campus than any other British university over the last three years, a new report has revealed.

The annual report, which was conducted by the Henry Jackson Society and was called “Extreme Speakers and Events: In The 2017-18 Academic Year”, showed that the university had received 70 speakers since the 2015-16 academic year. This figure accounted for 16 per cent of all the 435 events which had taken place at universities across the country.

Last year, the university welcomed 43 speakers which amounted to over 20 per cent of the national total.

SOAS was not the only university from London to be on the list, with Queen Mary University, King’s College London (KCL), Brunel, University College London and the London School of Economics all featuring in the top ten.

Queen Mary, KCL and Brunel were among the worst five in Britain, playing host to nine, eight and six extremist speakers respectively.

Emma Fox, the author of the report, described the findings as revealing an “industrial-scale failure by universities to apply their Prevent duties.” She said that the universities’ “lack of action over these events is so severe that it amounts to a self-evident failure to uphold the Prevent duty.

“The individuals revealed to be speaking on UK campuses have included some of the most insidious hate preachers in the country” and that there “should not have been any opportunity for them to secure near-unfettered access to students.”

The report relied upon the Government’s definition of extremism, which since 2011 has been the “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” This also included “calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas”. If the report needed any further clarifications it used the High Court’s decisions in the cases of Shakeel Begg v British Broadcast Corporation (2016) and Salman Butt v Secretary of State for the Home Department (2017).

In response to the report’s findings, a spokesperson from SOAS said that the university “totally rejects this characterisation of events”. They pointed out that the “events were fully legal and no concerns were raised with us by local police or Prevent officers”. 

Queen Mary stated that they have a “Policy and Code of Practice on the Conduct of Events and a Freedom of Speech Policy that reflect national guidance for universities.” The university added that all events are “subject to stringent checks” and that they are “aligned with best practice as set out by the Government’s Prevent strategy and guidance from Universities UK.

A spokesperson from KCL said that they aim to “promote Freedom of Expression within the law” and that one of their “core purposes as a university is to debate all points of view, even when controversial.”

London Student has contacted the other universities identified in the report along with the University of London but are yet to receive a comment.

Back in 2015, SOAS, Queen Mary, KCL and Kingston University were sounded out by former Prime Minister David Cameron for hosting “extremist preachers”. This led to all the mentioned universities denying the claims made by the government and the registrar of SOAS, Laura Gibbs, accusing Number 10 of “inaccuracies”. 

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