Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland universities respond to letter asking for Brexit lecturers

The two universities centrally-based in Northern Ireland are responding to a controversial letter sent to them by a Brexit-backing Tory MP.

In the letter, Eurosceptic Chris Heaton-Harris asked that vice-chancellors from around the country forward him on a list of professors at their university who are "involved in teaching of European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit".

It also asks for a "copy of the syllabus and links to the online lectures which relate to this area".

A spokesperson for Queen's University Belfast said it had "received a letter from Mr Chris Heaton-Harris MP in relation to the teaching of European Affairs".

"We responded indicating that we have a number of academics engaged in undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in the broad areas of Politics and Law which cover various aspects of European Affairs."

Ulster University confirmed it has received the letter from Mr Heaton-Harris and it was in the process of drafting a response.

The letter was sent to all universities in the United Kingdom earlier this month, and has been heavily criticised for encroaching on the academic freedom of universities.

Speaking to the Guardian, Prof Kevin Featherstone, head of the European Institute at LSE said the letter "reflects a past of a McCarthyite nature. It smacks of asking: are you or have you ever been in favour of remain? There is clearly an implied threat that universities will somehow be challenged for their bias".

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Undated handout photo issued by the University of Worcester of a letter by Chris Heaton-Harris to Professor David Green, Vice Chancellor at the university where the Conservative MP requested the names of professors teaching about Brexit / Credit: University of Worcester/PA Wire

In an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Minister of State for Universities and Science Jo Johnson said Mr Heaton-Harris had sent the letter as part of research for a book, but conceded it "probably should not have been sent"

Sinn Fein's Further and Higher Education Spokesperson MLA Caoimhe Archibald said it had been an "unjustifiable abuse of position".

"Regardless of the reason, the disconcerting undertones cannot be discounted," she said.

"Universities equip individuals with information and the ability to critically understand. Fundamentally they are places where the pursuit of knowledge and free-thinking are encouraged. Academic freedom and freedom of enquiry/research are fundamental values, which must be protected.

"Brexit has had, and will continue to have, serious and negative implications for our universities and research sector. Research programmes in particular rely upon the ability to collaborate and attract staff and students from across the EU and further afield."

Ms Archibald also noted the Freedom of the Arts and Science are protected under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

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