Government concern about free speech on campus angers universities

The government is to introduce new legislation that will enable students, academics or visiting speakers to take legal action against universities if they feel their freedom of speech has been suppressed.

The Department for Education said the next steps for legislation would be set out “in due course”.

Many universities are unimpressed by this decision as they believe it is based on “misleading” and “dubious” research. 

The government have come to this decision by relying heavily on a 2019 research report by Policy Exchange which demonstrated that there is evidence of a free speech “crisis” on campus.

The National Union of Students has rejected this idea.

The Russell Group University Trust said that universities need to keep their “institutional autonomy” and the group warned against creating an “unnecessary and burdensome bureaucracy.” 

The government has announced plans for the role to ensure freedom of speech and expression is not suppressed.

A Kingston University spokeswoman said: “Free speech underpins our democratic society and our universities and here at Kingston we have a long and proud history where students and academics can express themselves freely, of course with respect to one another.”

Under the new plans, universities would be legally obliged to constantly promote free speech and the Office for Students would have the power to impose fines on institutions if they breach this condition.

This would also apply to student unions where they have to ensure that free speech is ensured for members and visiting speakers.

Zoyah Khatun, a member of the Union of Kingston Students said: “We are always committed to freedom of speech and are welcoming of rigorous debates and discussion.”

Individuals would be granted compensation through the courts if they suffered loss from a breach of the free speech duties of universities under the new legal measure.

The higher education regulator in England would have the power to impose fines on institutions if they breached the condition.

 

 

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