Aston University statement on the Israel-Gaza conflict - Monday 3 June 2024

Aston University is committed to providing an inclusive, caring and empowering environment for every member of our community, seeking to ensure that diversity of beliefs and opinions can be expressed freely and openly within the law.

We continue to be profoundly saddened by the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and the suffering and loss of life caused by the war in Gaza and Israel. However, whilst we understand the strength of feeling that this terrible conflict has generated, we do not consider it appropriate for the University to express an institutional position regarding this conflict.

Our founding Charter provides that the University exists to “advance, disseminate and apply learning and knowledge by teaching and research.” Our main objective therefore is to provide all our students with excellent education in their chosen disciplines or professions within a safe, inclusive and supportive campus environment, and to enable them to excel, leading to successful employment and career progression.

The University’s fundamental purpose rests on our steadfast commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech which must manifest itself by providing an environment in which all members of the University community feel encouraged and supported to express and explore all views and beliefs that are within the law.

It would be inconsistent with our mission and purpose to make public statements and take a position on matters that are extraneous to the University and which may serve to impede academic freedom and open discourse of subjects upon which there are divergent views. We have, and will continue to foster, an environment that promotes intellectual challenge and disagreement in an inclusive and respectful manner, and within the law.

Our position does not limit members of the Aston University community from expressing lawful opinions on matters of political contention, but it does limit the position that the University takes on the conflict or indeed on other global political disputes.

Engagement and support

In response to an Aston University Students’ Union Council emergency motion calling for the University to show solidarity with Palestinian students, the Vice-Chancellor and members of the University executive team met with the Students’ Union president, student representatives from various groups and societies and Students’ Union officials to better understand the key issues, student needs and requirements, clarify the University’s position and reinforce its commitment to all our students.

Importantly, we wish to acknowledge the specific issues and difficulties our students of Palestinian and Israeli background have been experiencing during the Israel-Gaza conflict and the impact this is having on their lives. We are absolutely committed to supporting them at this difficult time to the best of our ability within the remit and resources of the University. Our priority is to enable our students to continue their studies uninterrupted and to support their wellbeing, while ensuring that our campus remains a safe and welcoming place for all.

Throughout this period, we have actively reached out to all students and particularly those that may have been impacted by the Israel-Gaza conflict. Our student welfare teams have met with students who are from these backgrounds to understand how we can support them during this difficult time. We have also supported other students with their wellbeing who might be impacted by this conflict due to their heritage, cultural lineage or on humanitarian grounds. The wellbeing of our community remains our top priority and our team will make every effort to provide care and support where we are able to do so. Aston University offers many wellbeing services including counselling, mental health support and our chaplaincy team, who provide a listening ear for students of all faiths and none.

We will continue to work with our Students’ Union, student societies, students of both Israeli and Palestinian origin and all other impacted students to ensure they are able to continue their studies uninterrupted and to support them through this difficult time.

The Vice Chancellor’s executive is maintaining active oversight of the situation with all working groups and support teams providing regular reports to the Vice-Chancellor.

Specifically, we have:

  • Appointed a designated liaison officer within the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic’s team for Palestinian and Israeli students and relevant student societies to act as first point of contact for any issues they may be experiencing using email studentwelfare@aston.ac.uk
  • Held regular meetings with the Students’ Union and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic to review progress and work together on new solutions as required in a timely manner
  • Provided financial support to all impacted Palestinian students and reached out with offers of support to all our Israeli students
  • Established the Aston Humanitarian Scholarship scheme for students from impacted conflict regions
  • Committed to providing additional support to our Palestinian Student Society and Students’ Union in organising lectures and educational workshops to advance understanding of the Middle Eastern and Palestine history, culture and current situation.

Inclusion is a core value of Aston University and central to our 2030 strategy. Our work in this field has resulted in multiple equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) charter awards (Race Equality Charter Bronze Award in 2022 and Athena Swan Gold award in 2023). In 2022 we were awarded University of Sanctuary Status, joining a select network of higher education institutions across the UK working to develop support for those displaced by humanitarian crises, and we have launched a range of scholarships for this purpose.

We are doing all we can to embed and promote EDI at Aston University as our core value and prevent hate crime, antisemitism, Islamophobia and intolerance. Anyone who has experienced bullying, harassment, discrimination, hate crime or assault should use our Report + Support tool, either with their identity or anonymously. We have dedicated teams under the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic and Chief People Officer who systematically deal with information we receive through this tool.

Aston University investments

Aston University has no direct investments in Israeli partnerships, businesses or companies. Our investments are transparent and disclosed in our published annual accounts and are in accordance with our Ethical Investment Policy. We shall also be establishing a University Investment Committee that will include a student representative nominated by the Students’ Union.

Research Collaboration

The University supports all its academic staff in freely collaborating, within the law, with other academics in the UK and internationally on externally funded research projects. As part of our commitment to transparency, we will provide details of these projects to the Students' Union, except where we are under a legal duty of confidentiality.

Scholarships and financial assistance

We have recently launched the Aston Humanitarian Scholarship scheme which will provide financial support to eligible students from distressed parts of the world, including Gaza, to have an inclusive and equitable chance of education at Aston University. We have the Ernest Edward Scholarship that offers up to four sanctuary scholarships to students who are seeking refuge in the UK. We also work closely with Cara (Council for At-Risk Academics) to support academic communities (students and staff) in danger, which provides additional opportunities for support.

Supporting all our students is a key priority at Aston University. We offer various support schemes and funds specifically designed to assist students facing hardship, particularly those from low income backgrounds or dealing with unforeseen circumstances. Furthermore, we have committed to investing over two million pounds into International scholarships to help students develop, up-skill and prepare them for their future careers.

Aston University statement on the Israel-Gaza conflict - Friday 24 May 2024

We are aware that some of our students are deeply affected by the ongoing crisis in the Middle East and hold strong views about the situation.

Our priority at this difficult time is to ensure that our campus remains a safe place for all our students and staff and to do all we can to prevent hate crime, antisemitism, Islamophobia and intolerance.

In line with our commitment to freedom of speech, we provide a supportive environment for all our students to express their views, debate and discuss this crisis, within the law and with respect and tolerance.

However, this does not extend to disrupting University operations or the work of our staff and students by setting up tents where there is no authority or permission to do so on University private land. The presence of the camp, which to the best of our knowledge also includes individuals who are not members of the University community, is causing disruption to planned University activities and making some of our staff and students feel unsafe.

The University has therefore issued a notice requesting the protesters with set-up tents to vacate its property. If they do not do so, they may be subject to legal action.

Any discrimination or intimidation against students, staff or University visitors resulting from events unfolding in the Middle East is unacceptable, and we urge anyone facing antisemitism, Islamophobia, harassment or discrimination of any kind to inform the University by calling our campus safety team on 0121 359 2922 or by emailing campussafety@aston.ac.uk.