A charity charging universities thousands of pounds a year to take part in a racial equality scheme is behind “the most egregious wokery” in higher education institutions, government figures have claimed.
Advance HE, which counts scores of universities as members of its Racial Equality Charter scheme, is said to be responsible for dramatic cultural changes on campuses. Tory MPs compared its influence on universities via the scheme to the Diversity Champions programme, run by Stonewall, from which a series of government bodies have withdrawn over controversy about its value for money and the charity’s influence on Whitehall.
Lucrative membership fees
Advance HE previously received millions of pounds in taxpayer funding, but now relies on lucrative membership fees from universities vying for bronze or gold medals by taking part in the scheme.
MPs believe that Advance HE’s influence, including its push for universities to “decolonise” their curricula, is leading to initiatives such as a University of Cambridge guide recommending that academics use “content notes” or “trigger warnings” to forewarn students about the subject matter of course texts, enabling them “to take the necessary steps to engage safely and with minimal psychological distress”.
“As well as students with mental health conditions, we believe that content notes can play a crucial role in helping to level the playing field for minoritised students of all kinds, as part of the university’s commitment to inclusivity in teaching,” said a handbook produced by Cambridge’s Centre for Teaching and Learning. A project at one Cambridge college involved adding “trigger warnings, with indications of harmful content” to an online archive of more than 10,000 books and magazines. Cambridge joined the Race Equality Charter scheme in 2016 and received a bronze award in 2019.
A government source said of Advance HE: “They don’t get [government] money anymore but universities pay them. They use diversity to degenerate universities into the most egregious wokery.”
‘Trigger warnings on the Little House on the Prairie’
Brendan Clarke-Smith, a former member of the Commons education committee, added: “When institutions like Cambridge University are putting trigger warnings on the Little House on the Prairie, you know something’s going badly wrong on university campuses.
“Advance HE is doing exactly the same thing that Stonewall did – ramming through its toxic political ideology under the pretext of fighting for social justice. Universities should focus on providing value for money for students.”
The Race Equality Charter scheme is overseen by a governance committee whose chairman, David Richardson, an Advance HE board member, declared in an article in 2020 that “all universities perpetuate institutional racism”.
‘Brainless woke nonsense’
On Saturday, Sir John Hayes, who chairs the Common Sense Group of MPs, said: “Be in no doubt, this is not merely brainless woke nonsense, it’s a sinister attempt to indoctrinate students and to turn places of light and learning into places dominated by darkness.
“Just as Stonewall has got itself and its warped ideology into every nook and cranny of the public sector, Advance HE has wormed its way into university campuses and all aspects of the higher education sector. I’ll be raising this with the secretary of state next week.”
Last year, The Telegraph disclosed how advice published by Advance HE on how to eliminate racism on campus had included stamping out racial “micro-aggressions” such as “avoiding eye-contact” with someone from an ethnic minority group or interrupting someone during a meeting.
Government sources and MPs are now concerned that the desire to find favour with Advance HE is behind moves such as overhauling curricula to remove classic texts that may now be deemed offensive.
‘Not a campaigning organisation’
Alison Johns, Advance HE’s chief executive, said: “The Race Equality Charter is a sector-created, evidenced-based framework to support staff in universities to develop their own plans to address the independent evidence of racial inequality in HE from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and Universities UK.
“It is entirely voluntary, in no way prescriptive, and claims that we – an educational charity and not a campaigning organisation – tell universities to drop texts, or rip up curricula are untrue.”
But, last year, one academic said that there is a “climate of fear”, in which those who disagree with microaggression and decolonising agendas were afraid to speak out.
Stonewall insists it simply helps employers to “build an LGBTQ+ inclusive workplace for their employees”, warning that its impact “should not be dismissed as ‘woke’”.