Extreme Speakers and Events: In The 2017-18 Academic Year

Emma Fox

The Extreme Speakers and Events: In The 2017-18 Academic Year report is an annual report published by the Henry Jackson Society’s Student Rights Project.  It is the most complete compendium of events promoted to university students published.

This year’s edition finds:

Extremist hate preachers, pro-jihad activists, and avowed anti-Semites have “near-unfettered” access to students. It catalogues 435 events promoted to students held over the last three academic years featuring elements of extremism – 16% of which took place at just one university.  The nationwide league table identified events promoted by university groups that have included: extremist or extremist-linked speakers, those that fundraised for extremist organisations, or included extremist content.

In September 2015 at a speech in Birmingham, then Prime Minister David Cameron ordered universities to stop providing extremists with “the oxygen they need to flourish” by hosting extreme speakers.  He cited 70 events featuring extremist-linked speakers that had occurred on campuses the previous academic year.  In spite of his warning, the University Extreme Speakers League Table discloses that more than 100 such events have been targeted at students in each and every year since.  In the 2017-18 academic year, the number of publicly promoted events increased by 87%, with 200 such events. The report warns that the true figure could be much higher, given it lists only publicly promoted events.

Over the last three academic years, SOAS is the university which has hosted the most events promoted to students which feature extremist groups or speakers.  The university has repeatedly disputed that it is in breach of its Prevent duties and has seen 70 events promoted by student groups that feature extremist groups or speakers – 43 of which took place in the last year alone.  In the 2017-18 academic year, over 20% of all events featuring elements of extremism took place under its auspices.  SOAS, hosted over four times as many events as its closest rivals; King’s College London, Birmingham, and Queen Mary University.

Among the extremist speakers identified by the Henry Jackson Society are:

  • 35 events featuring speakers from the pro-Jihad lobby group CAGE.  CAGE speakers include: Moazzam Begg who has praised Al-Qaeda figures and encouraged Muslims to travel to Syria; Shaker Aamer considered an Osama Bin Laden affiliate by the US Government; and Asim Qureshi who has promoted violent jihad, called Jihadi John a “beautiful young man”, and refused to condemn female genital mutilation.
  • 4 of the 6 extremist speakers David Cameron warned universities not to host in 2015 have continued to speak at student events collectively making appearances in 54 student events over the past three years.  They are Hamza Tzortzis, Uthman Lateef, Haitham al-Haddad and Alomgir Ali.
  • Other radical Islamists among the almost 100 speakers identified include: Yahya al-Raaby who has called Shia Muslims “devils” and “rafida; Yusuf Chambers who has advocated death for homosexuals;and Muhammed Taqi Usmani who has claimed that Islam allows slavery under certain conditions.
  • 140 events featuring representatives of organisations linked to Haitham al-Haddad.  Al-Haddad is one of Britain’s most notorious extremist hate preachers who has sanctioned forms of female genital mutilation, child marriage, death for apostates and adulterers, and said that men who beat their wives should not be questioned.

The rankings also include appearances by the far-right extremist Tommy Robinson and noted anti-Semites including Jackie Walker, the former Vice-Chair of Momentum.The report argues that universities’ protocols for upholding the Government’s prevent strategy are “not fit for purpose”.

Warning of an “industrial-scale failure by universities to apply their Prevent duties”, the report’s author highlights the apparent disparities between universities’ obligations under the law and the reality on the ground.  Universities have an obligation under the ‘Prevent duty’ enacted by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (2015) to protect students from extremist speakers.  The rules were instituted by Theresa May during her tenure as Home Secretary. The Government’s guidance on the duty states:

“…when deciding whether or not to host a particular speaker, [universities] should consider carefully whether the views being expressed, or likely to be expressed, constitute extremist views that risk drawing people into terrorism or are shared by terrorist groups. In these circumstances the event should not be allowed to proceed except where [universities] are entirely convinced that such risk can be fully mitigated without cancellation of the event.”

The league table reveals the universities with the most extreme events to be:

  1. SOAS, 70 events.
  2. King’s College London, 16 events.
  3. University of Birmingham, 15 events.
  4. Queen Mary University, 15 events.
  5. University College London, 15 events.
  6. Kingston University, 13 events.
  7. Cardiff University, 12 events.
  8. Brunel University, 11 events.
  9. Manchester Metropolitan University, 9 events.
  10. University of Bristol, 9 events
  11. University of Kent, 9 events.
  12. University of Essex, 9 events.
  13. LSE, 8 events.
  14. University of Sussex, 8 events.
  15. University of Leeds, 8 events.

Emma Fox, the report’s author commented:

“These findings reveal an industrial-scale failure by universities to apply their Prevent duties.  Many of the worst offending universities were warned by Prime Minister, David Cameron, to sort out their act but have instead played host to more speakers than ever before. Theresa May instituted rules on balanced panels that are now being wholly ignored. It is my view that these universities’ statements about extreme speakers have been wholly disingenuous and that their 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.  A significant number of the speakers, who spoke unopposed, have been linked to those who have gone on to commit terrorist offences and have made well-publicised extremist remarks.  There should not have been any opportunity for them to secure near-unfettered access to students.

The Office for Students’ claim that 97% of universities are complying with their Prevent obligations bears no resemblance to the reality on the ground.  The Office for Students must take enforcement action against the worst offending institutions.  The OfS’ near singular focus on checking paperwork leaves its monitoring incomplete at best and its misinterpretation of Government guidelines risks enabling British extremism.  The Office for Students’ monitoring of the Prevent duty is not fit for purpose.”


The University Extreme Speakers League Table

Rank (Overall)InstitutionTotal number of eventsNumber of events 2015/16Number of events 2016/17Number of events 2017/18
2Kings College London16628
3University of Birmingham 153210
4Queen Mary University 15249
6Kingston University 13562
7Brunel University 11146
8Cardiff University11434
9Manchester Metropolitan University 9315
10University of Bristol 9324
11University of Kent9243
12University of Essex9333
14University of Sussex 8044
15University of Leeds 8323
16University of Portsmouth 8512
17University of Leicester7124
18University of Bradford 7223
19University of Warwick7223
20University of Sheffield 7313
21University of Manchester 7322
22Aston University6105
23Middlesex University 6033
24University of Nottingham 6213
25Swansea University 6321
26University of Oxford5131
27University of the West of England 4004
28Imperial College 4103
29University of Exeter 4103
30Leeds Beckett University4112
31City University 4202
32University of Westminster 4121
33Goldsmiths College 4301
34University of Bath 4040
35University of Southampton 4040
36University of Surrey4130
37De Montfort University 3003
38University of Wolverhampton 3003
39University of Roehampton 3012
40University of Strathclyde 3102
41University of Aberdeen 3111
42University of Salford 3111
43University of Hull3120
44Cardiff Metropolitan University2002
45Sheffield Hallam University2002
46University of Cambridge2002
47University of Greenwich2002
48University of Sunderland2002
49University of Coventry 2011
50University of York2011
51University of East London 2101
52Birmingham City University 2110
53Coventry University 2110
54Oxford Brookes University2110
55Sheffield Hallam University 2110
56Northumbria University 2200
57Queen Mary School of Medicine and Dentistry 2200
58University of Lancaster2200
59Bournemouth University1001
60Glasgow Caledonian University 1001
61Keele University 1001
62Newcastle University1001
63Nottingham Trent University1001
64St George's1001
65University of Edinburgh1001
66University of Glasgow 1001
67University of Northumbria1001
68Lancaster University 1010
69Loughborough University 1010
70University of East Anglia 1010
71Heriot Watt University 1100
72London South Bank University1100
73University of Brighton1100
74University of Huddersfield 1100
75University of Liverpool1100
76University of Newcastle 1100
77University of Northampton 1100
78University of St Andrews 1100
Total (inc off-campus student events)435128107200
Note: Events organised by non-university groups and promoted to students through student groups are listed under the separate end category. There are 23 institutions of this type included. Further note: In the small number of cases that result in a perfect tie, universities are ranked alphabetically.Methodology: The methodological approach for which events are included and excluded from this study is detailed in the Extreme Speakers on Campus 2017-8 Report.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the standard for a speaker’s inclusion as ‘extreme’?

The report relies upon the Government’s definition of extremism.  The report uses the High Court’s decisions in Shakeel Begg v British Broadcast Corporation (2016) and Salman Butt v Secretary of State for the Home Department (2017) for further clarification in interpreting the Government’s definition.  In the case of both speakers and organisations, past comments and associations are judged against this standard.  Speakers representing organisations with an ongoing history of extremism are considered to be extreme speakers for the purpose of the report. Where retractions by speakers are known to the author, they have been recorded.

How is the data collected?

The Henry Jackson Society, through its ‘Student Rights’ programme, maintains a list of events related to universities that feature or risk featuring extremism.  The list is then compiled annually and each event is re-assessed according to the peer-reviewed methodology and used to populate this report and its included league table.

Why do you refer to events ‘promoted’ to students?  Do all events take place on campus?

In order to be included within the report, events had to have been organised by, or targeted at, students or student groups.  Like any student organisation, some events organised by student groups take place off-campus but are coordinated under their auspices and/or promoted to its members.

The report utilises records from online channels, including social media groups and student union event listings, to gather the data.  HJS or Student Rights staff do not attend all events but list occasions for which an online or published record of promotion by or to students exists.


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