Universities Must Commit to Free Speech or Face Fines, says Minister

Jo Johnson, the Universities Minister, has announced plans to compel universities to commit to free speech.  Under the plans, universities will be told to "clamp down on Student Unions that 'no platform' controversial speakers", according to the Guardian.

This would be facilitated by the new OfS (Office for Students), which is set to receive legal powers next year.  The OfS would have the power to fine, suspend or even deregister universities that do not meet the requirements.

In the past few years, some universities have prevented controversial speakers from addressing students on campuses.  Part of this is down to the NUS' 'No Platform' policy, which " prevents individuals or groups known to hold racist or fascist views from speaking at NUS events".  As a result, some student unions have adopted their own no platforming policies.

In an interview for The Times, Jo Johnson addressed the no platforming issue directly, saying:

"No-platforming and safe spaces shouldn't be used to shut down legitimate free speech.

"Our young people and students need to accept the legitimacy of healthy vigorous debate in which people can disagree with one another.

However, the move has been sharply criticised by the NUS who condemned it as "smoke and mirror politics at its most despicable" and said the government was trying to cover up failings in other areas.

Amatey Doku, the NUS' Vice President for Higher Education, said:

"I am disappointed to see that the regulating body, the OfS, which was intended to be a body which protected students’ rights, will instead be spending time policing what students do and don’t do on their campuses. In a context of a completely unsustainable fees system, students who can barely afford to eat and deep racial disparities in education, it is clear that the Universities Minister is trying to distract from real issues that he does not know how to address."

More on Free Speech:

Does the UK have a free speech problem? | Toby Gould
Majority of UK Universities 'Actively Censor Free Speech'
Free Speech: In Defence of the Students | Gabriel Rutherford

Last year's Spiked Free Speech University Rankings found that 63.5% of UK universities "actively censor free speech".  This includes major universities such as Oxford, LSE and Kings College, which were all found to have taken action to block debates or speakers on campus.

At the time, Spiked described the findings as "a very grim picture" which speak of a "crisis of free speech on campus".

The Chair of the OfS, Sir Michael Barber, said: "Ensuring freedom of speech and learning how to disagree with diverse opinions and differing views of the world is a fundamental aspect of learning at university. The OfS will promote it vigorously."

Toby Gould, Student Voices Editor
Universities Must Commit to Free Speech or Face Fines, says Minister Universities Must Commit to Free Speech or Face Fines, says Minister Reviewed by Student Voices on 11:13 Rating: 5

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