Universities told to reconsider membership of ‘woke’ scheme

·2 min read
Michelle Donelan, the higher education minister, - Geoff Pugh for The Telegraph
Michelle Donelan, the higher education minister, - Geoff Pugh for The Telegraph

Universities have been told to reconsider their membership of a “woke” scheme accused of orchestrating the “decolonisation” of curricula across the country.

Michelle Donelan, the higher education minister, has written to vice-chancellors warning that the Race Equality Charter, run by Advance HE, could be in conflict with universities’ duty to uphold free speech.

Her intervention comes after 25 Conservative MPs and peers wrote to Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, claiming that the Racial Equality Charter programme, which counts almost 100 universities and colleges as paid-up members, encourages “identity politics” on campuses.

The parliamentarians said the scheme was akin to Stonewall’s “diversity champions” benchmarking programme from which many public bodies have withdrawn.

Last year, this newspaper first reported scholars’ fears that academic freedom at British universities was under threat from the Race Equality Charter, a scheme that rewards institutions for “decolonising” their curriculum and for cracking down on “microaggressions”.

And more recently, The Telegraph disclosed concerns in government that Advance HE was behind “the most egregious wokery” in higher education institutions.

Dozens of the country’s leading higher education institutions – including the majority of members of the prestigious Russell Group – have signed up to the Race Equality Charter, which is awarded by Advance HE.

Universities pay Advance HE thousands of pounds in membership fees. In return, they are given training and guidance on tackling “institutional racism, white privilege and power, and addressing racial microaggressions”.

Through the REC, universities are rewarded with a bronze or silver badge for initiatives such as decolonising the curriculum, improving anonymous reporting functions, and rolling out unconscious bias training.

Universities are autonomous

In Ms Donelan’s letter, she notes that universities are autonomous and the decision over whether to join diversity schemes is up to each institution.

But she pointed out that the Government’s policy states that “where a university believes the membership of such schemes are genuinely the best way of addressing the matter, it is of course free to do so, but in general universities should feel confident in their ability to address such matters themselves and not feel pressured to take part in such initiatives”.

Ms Donelan also said that participation in schemes – including the Race Equality Charter operated by Advance HE – is “potentially in tension” with “creating an environment” on campus that promotes and protects free speech.

“Given the importance of creating a [higher education] environment in which free speech and academic freedom can flourish, I would like to ask you to reflect carefully as to whether your continued membership of such schemes is conducive to establishing that environment,” she said.

She also pointed out the huge sums invested by the taxpayer in higher education, adding that universities should “consider whether membership of these schemes, the initiatives that flow from them … truly represent good value for money for taxpayers or students”.

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