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Education Secretary launches plan to protect free speech and combat ‘unacceptable silencing'

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"File:Official portrait of Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP crop 3.jpg" by Richard Townshend is licensed w

Last week, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced new measures that were aimed at protecting ‘free speech’ on university campuses across the United Kingdom.

The Independent reported that Mr Williamson said the proposals were an attempt to strengthen academic freedom at universities in England.

These include the introduction of a ‘free speech champion’ who will be tasked with investigating potential breaches such as non-platforming speaker or dismissal of academics.

Universities that wish to be registered in England and have access to public funding will be required to adhere to the new conditions. The Office for Students (OfS) has also been given the power to impose fines on institutions that breach the condition.

Compensation will also be available to individuals who have suffered losses due to breaches of the new free speech duties. These can include the expulsion, dismissal or demotion of an individual on campus.

On top of this, Student Unions (such as Roehampton SU) will be required to ensure lawful free speech is secured for all members and visiting speakers under strengthened legal duties.

Whilst the move is welcomed by some academics across the country, the notion that free speech is suppressed on campuses has been rejected by the National Union of Students.

Hillary Gyebi-Abiado, vice president for higher education at the NUS said; 

“There is no evidence of a freeform of expression crisis on campus, and students’ unions are constantly taking positive steps to help facilitate the thousands of events that take place each year.

“We recognise this announcement as an opportunity for us to prove once and for all that there is not an extensive problem with freedom of expression across higher education.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson believes that;

“Free speech underpins our democratic society and our universities have long and proud history of being places where students and academics can express themselves freely, challenge views and cultivate an open mind.

“but I am deeply worried about the chilling effect of unacceptable silencing and censoring. That is why we must strengthen free speech in higher education, by bolstering the existing legal duties and ensuring strong, robust action is taken if these are breached.”

The Department for Education (DfE) has said that the next steps for legislation will be set out in due course.


Have Your Say

Roehampton – We’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Let us know in the comments below.

Do you feel that there needs to be more protections for free speech on campus and How would this affect you?


Image Credit - "File:Official portrait of Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP crop 3.jpg" by Richard Townshend is licensed under CC BY 3.0

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