By Naina Bhardway, News Editor (@NainaBhardwaj96)
Universities will be required to protect free speech across their campuses including inside the student union under plans being drawn up by the government.
Jo Johnson, the Minister for Higher Education, has written to universities saying that they will be compelled to include a clear commitment to freedom of speech in their governance documents to counter the culture of censorship and safe spaces.
Censorship has steadily increased at universities throughout the country, with 94% of campuses having some restrictions on freedom of expression, up from 90% last year and 80% in 2015.
The letter for dissemination to all universities via Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said that it was the “legal duty” of universities to ensure as far as practicable that freedom of speech is secured for “members, students, employees and visiting speakers”. This meant that all university premises should not be “denied to any individual or body on any grounds connected with their beliefs or views, policy or objective”.
The Higher Education Bill has run into much opposition in the House of Lords. Peers said that it gave too much power to students, who would be able to contribute to a new ranking system since the power to rate could force university authorities to give in to student demands for more safe spaces regardless of whether they are reasonable or not in order to be given good ratings.
Johnson said that all institutions must have a code of practice setting out free speech procedures in connection with hosting meetings.
These codes of conduct should not be allowed to “gather dust”, he said, adding: “They are crucial in demonstrating to students that free speech should be at the heart of a higher education community.”
The move comes after a plethora of campuses across the UK creating safe space, the banning of dressing up as individuals of minority groups and the banning of a pro-life group at our very own university but the most recent being a campaign to ban Germaine Greer from giving a speech at Cardiff University after her “offensive” comments about transgender people.