Racist incidents at universities show they aren’t as tolerant as we think | Malia Bouattia

Rufaro Chisango’s abuse at Nottingham Trent is part of a higher-education system that sidelines ethnic minorities
• Malia Bouattia is a former president of the National Union of Students

Many were outraged by Nottingham Trent University student Rufaro Chisango’s footage of people chanting “we hate the blacks” and a stream of other racist abuse. This young black woman felt forced to lock herself into her room for safety. Many have also wondered how this vile abuse was possible, in modern Britain, among educated young people. And not only that, but this weekend we heard of another Nottingham Trent student, Amrik Singh, being forced to leave a bar in nearby Mansfield purely for wearing a turban.

It’s 2018! We’re supposed to be a much more tolerant and progressive society than those grim days, decades ago, of abuse and overt racism. And in today’s universities there is a growing number of black and minority-ethnic students and staff.

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‘Serious failing’: inquiry to scrutinise Toby Young’s OfS appointment

An inquiry has been launched into the “serious failing” of appointing Toby Young to the board of the Office for Students without studying his long history of incendiary comments, the commissioner for public appointments has said.

Peter Riddell revealed that the Office for Students (OfS) interview panel’s report to ministers “made no mention of Mr Young’s history of controversial comments and use of social media”.

“Without any doubt this row makes a strong case for more extensive due diligence inquiries by departments in any case of doubt about a candidate,” Riddell wrote in a post on the commission’s website.

Young’s ill-fated appointment to the university regulator’s board was announced at midnight on New Year’s Eve. It quickly prompted controversy over comments by Young during his career as a journalist, including a series of sexist tweets.

In a letter to Robert Halfon, the chair of parliament’s education committee, Riddell said he planned to ask the OfS and the Department for Education (DfE) to explain the process that led to Young’s appointment.

Riddell said the report to ministers “indicates that Mr Young was judged as an appointable candidate by a properly constituted panel chaired by Sir Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students”, before being named to the board.

“The subsequent controversy has, however, highlighted flaws in the process,” Riddell wrote, pointing to ministers’ claims that they were unaware of Young’s offensive tweets. “This was a serious failing of due diligence,” he added.

“I am now seeking the full papers on recent appointments to the board of the Office for Students from the Department for Education so I can establish in detail what occurred and whether this was in line with the government’s governance code.”

Riddell said his main focus was on the procedures. “The merits or otherwise of the appointment of Mr Young and other candidates is a matter for ministers, and not for me,” he wrote.

Young stepped down from the OfS role at the start of this week after criticism from Labour and Conservative MPs, including a call by Halfon for the government to reconsider the appointment.

Riddell’s move comes as Young finds himself embroiled in further controversy over his attendance at a secretive conference held at University College London in May, which discussed eugenics and group genetic and IQ differences. Young has previously written about what he described as “progressive eugenics”.

Young said he attended the UCL conference “only for a few hours on a Saturday”, to gather anecdotal material for a speech he was giving to a conference covering similar topics in Canada.

The controversy puts a spotlight on Young’s role as director of the New Schools Network (NSN), a charity contracted by the DfE to promote and support applications by groups establishing new free schools in England.

Asked if the NSN’s board of trustees had discussed Young’s position, a spokesperson said: “The board has complete confidence in Toby Young as NSN’s director.”

Young was appointed in October 2016 by the network’s trustees, who cited his successful co-founding of the West London free school. Young receives about £90,000 a year as director, according to the NSN’s accounts.

The revelations surrounding Young come at a delicate moment for the NSN. The bulk of its funding comes from the DfE, and last month the department opened its tender to renew the free school promotion role from April 2018, offering up to £3.4m for two years. Tender applications close on 19 January.

But questions also remain over the NSN’s role, as no new free school bids have been approved by the DfE since before the last general election. In recent years, many new free schools have been opened by existing academy trusts, which need less help from the network.