NEWS2 November 2023

UKRI suspends diversity panel over researchers’ social media posts

News Public Sector UK

UK – UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has suspended its Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group with immediate effect after the UK secretary of state for science, innovation and technology, Michelle Donelan, criticised comments posted on social media about the Israel-Hamas war.


Donelan wrote an open letter at the weekend strongly criticising UKRI for a perceived failure to act over comments made by members of the advisory group on the ongoing Israel-Hamas war that she interpreted as “sharing extremist views”.

The letter said: “Hamas is a proscribed terrorist organisation. It is completely unacceptable for anyone to be expressing sympathy or support for them. I am staggered that this has happened full stop, let alone that I have to write to you about it.”

Donelan also wrote: “My strong preference would be that you immediately close this group and undertake an urgent investigation into how this happened.”

In an open letter in response to Donelan, Ottoline Leyser, chief executive at UKRI, said UKRI had decided to suspend the advisory group and launch an investigation into Donelan’s claims, as well as carry out a wider review about the future of advisory structures more generally at UKRI.

Leyser’s letter said: “I, and all my UKRI colleagues, are shocked by the terrorist acts of Hamas on October 7th and the tragic humanitarian crisis that has unfolded.

“I am deeply concerned about the issues you raise in your letter and I am taking swift and robust action accordingly. This action is guided by the principles you articulate, including the Nolan Principles and freedom of speech within the law, and will follow the procedures set out in the advisory group conditions of appointment.”

UKRI’s decision and Donelan’s letter both drew criticism from the University and College Union (UCU), which accused Donelan of “singling out two academics for criticism over their social media activity in relation to events in Israel and Palestine, and the responses of the UK government to those events”.

The UCU’s open letter, signed by Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, said: “On 30th October 2023, we wrote to Michelle Donelan to point out that this position was an outrageous misrepresentation of our members’ posts but also a heavy handed and provocative direct intervention from government without any care for due process.

“It is therefore deeply worrying that, instead of pushing back against the inappropriate and disproportionate demands from the secretary of state, UKRI decided to suspend the EDI advisory board.

“We are now clear. Unless UKRI step back from this position we will immediately call for our members to withdraw from all advisory positions within UKRI. We have given UKRI until Friday 3rd November to do this.”