Government intervenes to protect freedom of speech at universities

The government have published guidelines on protecting the freedom of speech at universities.

The guide, ‘Freedom of Expression: a guide for higher education providers and students’ unions in England and Wales’ was published a few days ago.

There’s been concerns that freedom of speech is under threat at UK universities, after student unions began placing ‘blanket bans’ on guest speakers that may have a particular political view.

The guideline states that universities could provide ‘trigger warnings’ for any controversial speakers, but a ‘no-platform’ approach could be  illegal and breach freedom of speech laws in England and Wales.

Government advises against ‘no-platforming’

The ‘safe space’ guidance says that university speakers should not be banned from universities just because they may ‘offend, shock or disturb’ students.

Instead, universities should use this as an opportunity to encourage ‘respectful debates’ which challenge discrimination and remove harmful attitudes, says the guidelines.

As most universities are publicly funded, they have a legal responsibility to protect freedom of expression which is ‘a key part of higher education experience’.

It is the first time in 30 years that the government have had to step in to protect the freedom of speech at higher education.

Universities Minster Chris Skidmore said that the guidance shows the government’s commitment to upholding freedom of expression from across the sector.

He said: “Free speech is a value integral to the independence and innovation that embodies the higher education sector in the UK, fuelling academic thought and challenging injustice. This guidance is a symbol of the commitment from across the sector to protecting freedom of speech.”

Is freedom of speech under threat at Canterbury Christ Church University?

NO, freedom of speech is not under threat – Alexandra Clifford, 20, studying MA Modern History 

“Not at all in my experience. The only people I’ve heard saying this are those who fundamentally misunderstand, and think freedom of speech means the freedom to bully, to incite hate and freedom from consequences.”

YES, freedom of speech is under threat – Max Cheal, 22, studying Physical Education

“Yes. Just look at hate speech laws. Whether this is racism, transphobia, islamophobia or anything else. This can all cause a policing of thoughts. As of such, you don’t know who’s an idiot and who isn’t… Because now you have people who often lie about their own views to avoid others yelling at them for expressing their opinion.”

NO, freedom of speech is to call out on hate speech too – Eloise Lenton, 20, studying Nursing

“Nope. I believe people often forget freedom of speech means freedom to criticise too. If i feel something is hate speech, I have the freedom to say that. If I disagree, or agree, I can say that too.”

YES, the university has no desire to uphold freedom of speech – Max Newton, 20, studying Multimedia Journalism

“I don’t believe the university has a desire to upheld freedom of speech in any way, let alone threaten it. The idea of hate speech already removes the principle of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is the right for me and you to say what ever we want, no matter how ghastly and disgusting it may be without fear of criminal prosecution. The only way you should be prosecuted is by inciting others to violence.”

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Claisse Opulencia

Editor-in-Chief of Unified. Claisse is a third year multimedia journalism student at CCCU. Amnesty Media Award Finalist 2018, IRN Awards Runner-up 2018 and nominated for two SPA Awards 2018.

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