Monday, 31 October 2016

Rainbow Nation or Little England - The case for multiculturalism

In his annual lecture, presented in the Weston Auditorium on 20 October 2016, the Vice-Chancellor Quintin McKellar considered the contribution that diversity makes to the United Kingdom today. The full speech with references is included below.

Let me begin with a satisfied reflection on a halcyon summer: Chris Froome won the Tour de France for the third time, Mo Farah won the 5,000m and 10,000m track double, making him a double, double Olympic winner and Moe Sbihi won a gold medal in the coxless four which Britain won for the fifth successive Olympics. It made you proud to be British.  Chris, Mo and Moe, were born abroad or had a foreign parent or grandparent and rowing Moe was the first Muslim to win a gold medal in that sport for Britain. A third of the 65 British medal winners at the 2012 Olympics, and I suspect an equal proportion of our 2016 winners, had a similar international heritage.

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In football, more than 103 different nations have been represented in England’s Premiere League, and of the 568 current players, 183 are black and 8 Asian. Of the 15 principal dancers with the Royal Ballet only two are British the others come from Cuba, Italy, Canada, the USA, Australia, Spain, Russia, Argentina, the Ukraine and Brazil.

And of course at the University of Hertfordshire we have over 4000 overseas students from over 130 countries. Of our total 25,000 thousand students, 49 per cent are from ethnic minorities. We educate a further 5000 students in franchise and distance delivery partnerships overseas. 

For sport, the arts and for universities diversity is clearly important. I also believe it is hugely important for our economy, for our culture and heritage and for our outlook as a tolerant nation integrated internationally with an interconnected and increasingly mobile world.

Tonight I want to consider the contribution that diversity makes to Britain, address the tensions that come with it, challenge our communities to do more to overcome our differences and conclude that our universities can be the beacons of light which disperse to colour Britain’s rainbow society.

But let me start with an image – of a little boy in the arms of a uniformed man on a beach at the coastal town of Bodrum in Turkey – one of 12 Syrians who drowned when their boat capsized while trying to flee the tyranny of so-called Islamic State (IS). A stark reminder that for some, migration is a matter of life or death. Turkey has absorbed – grumpily it must be said – 2.7 million Syrian refugees, the Lebanon 1.5 million (an extraordinary 210 for every 1000 of the indigenous population – now making up almost a quarter of their population).[1] Jordan has added 1.4 million Syrian refuges to their already bulging Palestinian and Iraqi refugee populations.[2]

Britain – also rather grumpily – has managed about 5000 Syrian refugees or 0.08 per 1000 of the population – that’s right, Lebanon 210 per 1000, Britain less than 0.1 per 1000.[3] This tarnishes a record of successful resettlement, stretching back beyond the Ugandan Asians expelled by Idi Amin in 1972. They arrived only four years after Enoch Powell’s foreboding of ‘a river of blood’ as he predicted violent conflict associated with Britain’s migrants. Powell’s invective ended his political career but is also generally thought to have contributed to the 1970 Conservative party election victory. The rhetoric and voting inclination of the British people appear to contrast markedly with their recorded hospitability and stated values.

The current anti-immigrant mood music, sung by our red top newspapers, certainly influenced the recent referendum vote for Brexit. In reality, intolerance manifest by racially motivated crimes has apparently been experienced by a very small proportion of the British population although sadly the police reported a 20 per cent increase of hate crimes in the immediate aftermath of the EU Referendum, suggesting somehow that the election result gave legitimacy to previously supressed prejudice.[4]

You may not know, but as a country we specifically address tolerance in the British Values taught in schools, the fourth of which is “mutual respect for, and tolerance of, those with different faiths and beliefs”. But how many of you, if challenged, could recite the list of British Values as they currently stand?

Let me ask you again – can any of you recite our British Values?

Current concern over immigration to the UK is less about immigrants who arrive as refugees and seek asylum but rather about the substantial majority of immigrants who might broadly be described as economic migrants coming to the UK for a better life and amounting in net terms to about 250,000 people a year.[5] These migrants have contributed to an overall increase in the UK population of nearly 2 million over the last five years and net migration to the UK has been increasing since the early 1990s, when inflows and outflows were roughly balanced.[6]

This is photograph FL 9448 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums via Public Domain
Historically we have welcomed economic migrants, most notably African-Caribbean who were encouraged to come to the UK to fill shortages in the labour market after the Second World War and who carried the “Windrush” label after the boat on which the first pioneers arrived. Indeed, the British Nationality Act 1948 conferred British citizenship upon those living in Commonwealth countries specifically for this purpose.

We should also remember that Britain has itself contributed massively to the outward flow of emigration, sending many of the 55 million Europeans who emigrated to the New World and elsewhere. Currently about 5 million Britons live abroad.[7]

The impact of the massive fluxes of peoples across the globe will be viewed differently by aboriginal and migrant descendants, by those whose countries were colonised, and whose places on the map were redrawn or coloured pink, but there is no doubt that the modern world owes its shape, modernity and complexity to migration.

It is the contribution of recent waves of migration to the UK which is of current interest. These immigrants are mostly in their mid-twenties to thirties and are generally thought to make a positive contribution to real GDP and the economy.[8] They increase the labour force, output capacity and aggregate demand and thus total spending in the economy. The large number of European workers arriving since 2004 has produced a more flexible workforce meeting the demand for semi-skilled workers in the construction and agricultural sectors. Government has also had to actively attract migrants in some sectors such as nursing where the perverse capped contracting system embraced by the NHS limited the capacity for our universities to meet the demand locally.[9] And as I approach my pension, I note with relief that migrant workers positively impact the age demographic of the UK and the ratio which measures the retirement and ill-health benefits claimed by our ageing population against the tax payments made by those in work.

Finally, I note that since 1999, immigrants from the European Economic Area have contributed 34 per cent more to public finances than they have taken out.[10]

For universities, overseas students bring substantive net benefit, enriching the learning experience for home based students by sharing heritage, culture and outlook, while embracing British values and supporting our international reach, exerting the soft power of influence and friendship when they return home.[11] Our own Prime Minister, Theresa May, was introduced to her husband by her friend Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, who she met at Oxford University. And in 2015, 55 of the then world leaders had been educated in British Universities.[12] International students also bring direct financial benefit, supporting minority subjects and in many cases allowing Universities to deliver topics for our UK students which otherwise would be unsustainable. At Hertfordshire it would not be economically viable to teach our Aerospace, Data Communications or Intelligent Systems Masters courses without overseas students. The current contribution of overseas (Non UK or EU) students directly to British Universities through tuition fees amounts to £4.4 billion and the financial benefit to the economy amounts to £75 million in Hertfordshire alone.[13]

It is not only the recent immigrants and refugees who make substantive contributions to our society; second, third and earlier generations of migrants make up a substantive proportion of our population. In London, 72 per cent of primary school children are ethnic minorities and indeed this University boasts as many Black and minority ethnic or BME students as white students. To understand the contribution they make I invite you to sit in on any pharmacy, law or business class, watch the student union executive in action or join in with the Salsa dance society or basketball team. And with 96.2 per cent of our graduates getting jobs within six months of graduation, they are patently contributing positively to the economy beyond their University careers.[14]

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Now, integration and assimilation may simply take time. The Windrush generation may have been the focus of the Notting Hill riots in 1958 but they were also the catalyst for the Notting Hill Carnival, now a beacon of multicultural community celebration.

London now seems largely comfortable with its extraordinary ethnic mix and cosmopolitan culture. The food eaten by migrants, once ridiculed by ‘The British’, is now sought in trendy London restaurants by the white chattering classes and food shops selling hummus and halloumi are the regular haunt of would-be Delias or Hestons. London schools, twenty years ago the bottom of the educational heap, are now near the top populated by those of Chinese, Indian and Polish descent, whose aptitude and work ethic exceed the White and African-Caribbean kids that they now outnumber.[15] [16] Those middle-class parents wishing to buy a house in an area with a high performing school would be well advised to find one populated by Chinese children who perform 17.5 per cent better than the national average.[17] 

Outwith London and other major cosmopolitan cities racial integration has been less successful. Patently there are concerns associated with migrant assimilation and multicultural harmony which go beyond simple prejudice. These concerns relate to infrastructure and resources, social and moral norms, radicalism and extremism, and anguished self-scrutiny over unequal achievement and political correctness.

The growth of any population, ethnic or otherwise, will put pressure on infrastructure. Interestingly, it is often the same intransigent voices who say that we do not have enough housing for immigrants who also say we should not be building more houses. Of course we must preserve our green and pleasant land, but with sensible planning strategies we can do both. Hertfordshire has been a pioneer of such growth with its wonderful garden cities and as a country our population density is still small compared to Belgium, Singapore, Japan or the Netherlands. And when people say – but there is no room in our schools – I say look at the Lebanon and Jordan where schools are “double shifting” to cope with their Syrian refugees. The limits to population growth lie more in our imagination than our physical capacity. And I should point out, that our School of Education at the University of Hertfordshire would be happy to train more teachers!

What of other social problems laid on the altar of ethnicity? In 2010, five British Pakistani men from Rotherham were found guilty of child abuse. It transpires that 1,400 children had been abused and as Theresa May (then Home Secretary) said, the criminals were not more quickly brought to justice because of “institutionalised political correctness”.[18] Of course the true criminals were the British Pakistanis who perpetrated the offences. Targeting largely young white girls for sexual exploitation they condemned themselves as racist as well as obnoxious.  They broke another fundamental British value, that of the rule of law.

But what of those who turned a blind eye, because to challenge meant identifying the perpetrators as Pakistani and could have attracted accusations of racism? They represent an extreme, but the fear of entering debate on ethnicity extends to what Trevor Phillips, the founding chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, calls the “priestly language of race equality”.[19]  Society must learn to engage with one another without unnecessarily causing or taking offence.  We must not become so precious that we mistakenly avoid addressing injustice for fear of imputing prejudice.

Ethnic sensitivities have prevented a robust debate around religious slaughter in abattoirs, an issue of interest to me as a vet. Animals are normally rendered insensible by stunning prior to bleeding out but this practice is precluded in some religious slaughter. Is it intolerant to suggest higher welfare standards at the expense of custom or religious practice? Evidence and morality surely outweigh doctrine. Practices must evolve as the populace becomes enlightened and must reflect the moral conscience of the nation.

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Political correctness leapt too far when students at Oriel College Oxford campaigned to have the statue of Cecil Rhodes removed because they found it offensive. A major benefactor of the College, but also a rampant colonial imperialist, Rhodes is not an easy man to defend. Nevertheless, unless we choose to dynamite Mount Rushmore because George Washington kept slaves or decide to knock down the Colosseum which is a mark of Roman Imperialism and slave persecution, such proposals are daft. Indeed the shocking vandalism of IS at Palmyra in Syria, destroying the Temple of Baalshamin which dated back to 17AD, starkly emphasised the folly of allowing our current cultural values to be the determining feature of artistic or architectural censorship.

In issues of racial discrimination a further pillar of British belief has been reversed. Since 2006 the burden of proof in racial discrimination at work has been placed firmly on the shoulders of the respondent. In a ruling by the European Court of Justice those accused of discrimination are “Guilty until proven innocent”. Furthermore, following the Macpherson enquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence, it is now accepted that a racist incident is that which is perceived by the victim to be racist. These rulings no doubt help bring to justice true racists – but could also tarnish the reputation of innocent individuals.

Let me consider a further concern starkly highlighted by the three Bethnal Green Academy girls caught on camera at Gatwick airport, who had apparently been radicalised in their East London Mosque before travelling to Syria to join IS. Sadly, one of the girls Kadiza Sultana has since been killed in an airstrike shortly after telling her family she wished to return home.

Britons have not only embraced and carried extremist belief overseas but have brought terrorism to our own shores. On 7th July 2005, the day after London won its bid to host the 2012 Olympics, four bombs were detonated on London Transport by suicide bombers. Three of them were second generation British Pakistanis from apparently stable loving families. Motivation to commit such atrocities is hard to comprehend, but in pre-recorded videos two of the bombers invoke Islam and claim “revenge” for atrocities carried out against “their” people by “our” government. If I can quote Professor Louise Richardson “it is perhaps most extraordinary that young English men were apparently radicalised by what they had heard of American actions in Iraq, and, never having been to either America or Iraq, they murdered commuters in London”.[20]

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The apparent radicalisation of, particularly but not exclusively, young Muslims no doubt strengthened the resolve of the government to introduce the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. The Act is controversial, not for its intention but in its operation. In the Prevent strategy, it confers a duty on universities, and others “to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. Part of the guidance requires universities to vet external speakers coming on to campus to ensure that they do not foment violence or encourage radicalisation. This infringes on one of the tenets of a democratic society: that of freedom of speech. And of course we all know that “democracy” and “individual liberty” are two of the declared British values taught in our schools!

For many of us brought up in the cradle of democracy, freedom of speech is simply a given. However, you may be interested to know that one in four students think that UKIP should be banned from speaking at university events. But then three per cent think the Labour Party should be banned and six per cent would ban the Conservatives![21]

The line between the expression of a view and the cultivation of radicalisation may be thin, blurred and shifting, depending on your perspective and it is a tricky line to walk. But for me, the contradiction explicit in the idea of having a ‘bit’ of freedom of speech is self-evident.

However, the Prevent Legislation is further challenged by imposing on Universities the requirement to identify students “vulnerable to radicalisation”. We attempt to do so, but any claim to success in this should be treated with incredulity since the idea that someone vulnerable to radicalisation has easily identifiable characteristics is silly.

This University will of course do everything we can to uphold the law, but I believe the path to tolerance and understanding is better served through challenge and debate. And of course that depends on all of us having the courage to challenge, the eloquence to persuade and the fundamental belief that peace and harmony offer so much more than terror and violence. As Benjamin Franklin said “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”.[22]

The causes of terrorism are fiendishly complicated. Louise Richardson, one-time IRA supporter and now authority on terrorism and, incidentally, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford, suggests that a “lethal cocktail of disaffected individuals, enabling communities and a legitimizing ideology” are essential ingredients.[23]

While religion is often seen as the cause, it rarely is, rather it serves to make terrorist groups more extreme. Almost all major world religions advocate peace and the three often cited in conflicts, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, all believe in the same Abrahamic God. If religion is to blame it is because it has the facility to draw believers to absolutist and intransigent positions. The current caliphate or self-appointed Muslim leadership of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi of Islamic State bears little resemblance to the long standing and more liberal caliphs of the Ottoman Empire who enjoyed music, established art schools, opera houses and Universities and introduced secular law alongside Sharia. If Islam was the primary cause of terrorism there would be much more of it.

Inequality, or at least poverty, no doubt contributes, however the terrorists themselves are often from affluent backgrounds and are almost always well educated. Terrorists may believe that political or regime change will improve the position of the poorest, however this Halcyon vision is largely a mirage since most conflicts initiated by terrorism manifestly increase poverty and at least in the short term exacerbate the inequality experienced by those involved.

What is clear from research on terrorism is that those seduced by it see the world in stark black or white terms in which their adversaries are to blame for all their woes and almost all terrorists are substantially motivated by the desire for revenge.[24]  

Concern over migrants and minorities may rest in prejudice, jealousy or fear but the genie is out of the bottle, we are already a multicultural society and we should now be directing our resources to more effectively and harmoniously integrate rather than to exclude or marginalise. Of course that means investment, but given the prospect of a happy, well integrated, energetic society it would be a wise investment with a good economic and social return.

Universities face their own set of challenges and opportunities associated with diversity. Attracting students from disadvantaged backgrounds which often comprise high percentages of ethnic minorities is in itself problematic, Oxbridge are regularly criticised for the low percentage of Black and minority ethnic students that they recruit – and while the admissions processes of Oxford and Cambridge might be more suited to students well-schooled in critical thinking and interview technique the fault may lie also in the lack of aspiration of the schools and colleges from which the majority of BME students come.[25]

Pleasingly, at the University of Hertfordshire we are particularly successful in attracting disadvantaged but highly qualified students from all ethnic backgrounds. But we face our own set of challenges, the biggest of which is the attainment gap between our BME students and their white compatriots. We introduced a five year programme to reduce the gap, with measures including unconscious bias training for staff and anonymous marking. The programme had a significant impact and yet currently our BME students are still 17 per cent less likely than others to acquire 2:1 or first class degrees. This is not a feature only of the University of Hertfordshire, there is an attainment gap across the higher education sector of 19% and we are working with Kingston University to find out the reasons and address them.[26]

Here again, political correctness dictates that the full responsibility for the attainment gap rests on the shoulders of the system or the institution. Perhaps our assessment processes are not best suited to students who have done BTEC, or we have an insufficient number of role model academics, or we do not fully appreciate cultural differences in our learning methods; perhaps BME students from disadvantaged backgrounds have to do relatively more extra-curricular paid work to make ends meet.

This may all be true but we also know that in schools Indian pupils are less than half as likely as African-Caribbean pupils to be truant and of the ethnic groupings African-Caribbean pupils do the least homework.[27] If there are issues around attendance and effort in certain cohorts of students then we must work with them to make the classroom and the library more attractive.

As we gather the information required to make more informed judgments I challenge my institution to do better but also all my students to rise to this challenge. In a truly well-integrated community we must not only offer equivalent opportunity but demand that everyone embrace that opportunity with equal strength and vigour.

What might I conclude from this discombobulated picture? Firstly that we should be welcoming young, talented people from across the world to our shores, particularly students, who should be taken out of net migration numbers and who should be encouraged to stay at the end of their degrees.

Secondly we should be investing much more to help integrate those who choose to come to this country – not corralling them in ghettos but integrating them effectively in our society and if that means imaginative housing and schooling programmes let us start using our imagination. The Willkommenskultur or Welcome Culture programme introduced by Angela Merkel offers 800 hours of free tuition for immigrants to Germany, and while the success of the programme is by no means certain, and is likely to come at a high political cost to the Chancellor herself, the Germans are at least trying! As are the Jordanians and Lebanese with imaginative schooling and housing programmes.

Thirdly integration is a two-way street, ethnic groups in the UK must embrace our countries values and general norms of behaviour and we must learn to challenge and debate without the spectre of tight-lipped disapproval or worse from the guardians of political correctness.

Tonight I have spoken about British values, Observance of the Law, Democracy, Liberty and Tolerance, but perhaps George Orwell crystallised more beautifully what Englishness is – it means gentleness, distrust of authority, decency and a love of flowers.[28] I therefore conclude that Britain is a rainbow nation, where the dark clouds of bigotry and racism have no place.

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Let me finish with belief and hope. At this University researchers have shown that Polish migrants who come for work, don’t stay for housing benefits or schools or health or welfare, they stay for love; they marry our girls and our boys and in doing so give me confidence in a better and more tolerant and happier future!

[1] G. Özerim ‘Turkey’s great challenge: integrating 2.7 million Syrian refugees’ The Conversation 13 October, 2016; ‘Helping Lebanese Communities Cope with Syrian Refugees’ The World Bank 14 July, 2016
[2] M Homoud ‘In Jordan, we understand a refugee crisis’ The Telegraph 16 September, 2015
[3] ‘Migrant crisis: What is the UK doing to help?’ BBC News 28 January, 2016
[4] H Corcoran, D Lader and K Smith Hate Crime, England and Wales, 2014/15 (October 2015); ‘Hate crime ‘still far too high’ post-Brexit – police’ BBC News 22 July, 2016
[5] O Hawkins ‘Migration Statistics’ House of Commons Library Briefing Paper No. SN06077 25 October, 2016
[6] ‘United Kingdom population mid-year estimate’ Office for National Statistics 23 June 2016
[7] ‘And don’t come back’ The Economist 9 August 2014
[8] OECD Policy Brief May 2014
[9] Partial Review of the Shortage Occupation List: Review of Nursing Migration Advisory Committee March 2016
[10] Dustmann, C and Frattini, T., ‘Yes, EU immigrants do have a positive impact on public finances’ The Conversation
[11] HEPI and Kaplan ‘What do prospective students think about international students?’ HEPI Report 74 (March 2015)
World leader defined as monarchs, presidents or prime ministers
[13] UUK (2014) International Students and the UK Immigration debate
[14] ‘University of Hertfordshire employment rate of graduates rise to a new record high’ University of Hertfordshire 7 July 2016
[15] Commission on Inequality in Education. ‘Educational Inequalities in England and Wales’. Social Market Foundation:
[16] Burgess, S. ‘Understanding The Success of London’s schools’. Working paper 14/333 CMPO University of Bristol, 2014.
[17] ‘GCSE and equivalent attainment by pupil characteristics in England, 2012/13’ Statistical First Release Department for Education 23 January 2014
[18] A Jay Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham 1997 – 2013 2014; C Hope ‘’Institutional political correctness’ probe ordered by Theresa May into Rotherham child abuse scandal’ The Telegraph 2 September 2014
[19] T Phillips Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence June 2016
[20] L Richardson What Terrorists Want (London, 2006)
[21] N Hillman Keeping Schtum? What students think of free speech Hepi Report 85 May 2016
[22] ‘Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor’ Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives, 1755-1756
[23] L Richardson What Terrorists Want 2006
[24] L Richardson What Terrorists Want (2006)
[25] V Boliver ‘Why do elite universities admit so few ethnic minority applicants?’ The Guardian 8 July 2014
[26] HEFCE, 2014 What HEFCE knows about race equality in the HE lifecycle,
[27] Demos Integration Hub
[28] G Orwell ‘England Your England’ The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius 1941

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