UNIVERSITIES are facing a ‘hostile environment’ in the run up to the general election - according to the head of the University of Worcester.

Professor David Green, the university’s vice chancellor and CEO, said hostility towards universities had been building in recent months and he believed it was set to get worse at a speech to guests at a celebration dinner.

He highlighted a column in the Spectator by Rod Liddle, entitled ‘If you do one thing this election, stop your kids from voting.”

Professor Green read an extract from it that began: “If you have a student son or daughter thinking of voting shove some high grade skunk under their door the day before the poll. You can lace the skunk with horse tranquilisers if you like - do anything, just stop them voting.”

In the column, Mr Liddle later said: “My own choice of election date would be a day when universities are closed...”

Professor Green said that Mr Liddle had later said he was ‘joking’ about students - and his suggestion that the election day should be held on a day when Muslims could not vote.

But Professor Green added: “This is often the excuse used when something is prejudiced like this.”

He went on to say that he was very proud he had encouraged Worcester students to sign up to vote.

He told assembled guests that the university had been ranked joint top in a new league table focussed on how universities are engaging students in democracy.

He said: “We were one of only three universities that achieved 100 per cent across five categories.”

The results of the survey, carried out by Vote For your Future and published in the Times Higher Education magazine, reveal Worcester as joint top with the Universities of Hull and Sheffield.

Professor Green told a packed room of graduates, business and community leaders and university staff that “now is the time to do all we can as a society to engage in democratic, reasoned discussion”.

He later said: “At Worcester we passionately embrace our duty to promote British values, which are ‘democracy; the rule of law; individual liberty; and mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths, beliefs and for those without faith’.

“Our fundamental approach is to encourage all students to become well informed about the issues, to engage in peaceful, respectful democratic discussion of the issues, to register to vote and then vote as they see fit.

“We are of course delighted that our efforts to engage students have been recognised in this table published today. More importantly we hope that this will spur other universities, colleges and secondary schools going forward.”

The University said it worked with the Students’ Union to actively promote voter registration across campus, with posters, displays and email campaigns.

It also held a special Democracy Day in September - a day of talks and discussions aimed at encouraging students to engage with the issues of the day and to register to vote.

The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 placed a statutory requirement on universities to facilitate student voter registration.

With youth voter registration the lowest of all age groups, the survey aimed to encourage universities not only to meet this obligation but to go above and beyond to ensure that no student is disenfranchised due to lack of information and/or accessibility.