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Victory For Free Speech: UK Minister Bans Students From Censoring Controversial Speakers

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Eleanor Harding, Daily Mail

Student zealots will be banned from censoring controversial speakers on campuses following the first ministerial intervention on free speech in 30 years.

Sam Gyimah, the universities minister, has announced tough new guidance which will see institutions disciplined if they allow valid debates to be shut down.

He vowed to stamp out the ‘chilling’ trend of speakers being blocked from campuses simply because there is institutional hostility to unfashionable views.

It will be the first government intervention on the issue since the free speech duty was imposed on universities as part of the Education Act in 1986.

The new guidance will state that all speech must be welcome at universities, as long as it does not violate existing laws – for example, on encouraging terrorism.

Sam Gyimah, the universities minister, has announced tough new guidance which will see institutions disciplined if they allow valid debates to be shut down

Any institution in breach of the rules may be named, shamed or even fined by the new Office for Students (OfS) regulator, which also has the power to deregister universities.

It follows a number of high profile cases of attempts by student unions to censor feminists, Tory politicians, gay rights activists and even race campaigners over concerns they had ‘offensive views’.

Union officials claim they must ‘no-platform’ anyone who might say something controversial because they have a duty to protect the feelings of students and provide ‘safe spaces’.

But Mr Gyimah said a free exchange of ideas must be integral to universities and warned some people were shutting down views to suit ‘their own ends’.

Today he is chairing a private summit with university bosses, regulators, union officials, experts and civil servants to consult on what form the guidance will take.

He said: ‘A society in which people feel they have a legitimate right to stop someone expressing their views on campus simply because they are unfashionable or unpopular is rather chilling.

There is a risk that overzealous interpretation of a dizzying variety of rules is acting as a brake on legal free speech on campus.

‘That is why I am bringing together leaders from across the higher education sector to clarify the rules and regulations around speakers and events to prevent bureaucrats or wreckers on campus from exploiting gaps for their own ends.’

He said it would signal a new chapter for free speech on campus, ensuring future generations of students get exposure to stimulating debates and a diversity of viewpoints.

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