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Norwich university vice-chancellor calls MP’s Brexit letter ‘clumsy and ill-considered’

PUBLISHED: 14:15 25 October 2017 | UPDATED: 14:29 25 October 2017

UEA vice chancellor Professor David Richardson. Picture Simon Finlay

UEA vice chancellor Professor David Richardson. Picture Simon Finlay

ARCHANT NORFOLK

The vice-chancellor of a Norwich university has described a letter from an MP asking for information on its lectures about Brexit “clumsy and ill-considered”.

Professor David Richardson, of the University of East Anglia, criticised the letter from Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris, who wrote to universities asking for names of professors who teach Brexit courses, copies of the syllabus and links to online lectures.

Mr Heaton-Harris, who is a member of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of Conservative MPs, said he believed in an “open” debate on the subject, but his letter has been condemned by universities, with some calling it a “sinister” attempt to censor them.

Professor Richardson said: “The prime minister’s office has publicly rebuked Mr Heaton-Harris for his actions and stressed that he was acting as an individual MP and not in a government capacity.

“Mr Heaton-Harris’s letter has justifiably been condemned and I would endorse those criticisms. The letter was, at best, clumsy and ill-considered but, at worst, it was suggestive of an attempt to censor or challenge academic freedom.

“It’s vital that universities’ academic freedoms are protected and that we continue to remain free from, and unfettered by, government interference or censorship.”

The letter said: “I was wondering if you would be so kind as to supply me with the names of professors at your establishment who are involved in the teaching of European affairs, with particular reference to Brexit.

“Furthermore, if I could be provided with a copy of the syllabus and links to the online lectures which relate to this area I would be much obliged.”

After it was posted on social media, government whip Mr Heaton-Harris tweeted to say: “To be absolutely clear, I believe in free speech in our universities and in having an open and vigorous debate on Brexit.”

Downing Street said he had written to universities in his capacity as an MP and not as a representative of government.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said Theresa May respected the freedom and independence of universities and the role they played in providing open and stimulating debate.

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