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A step in the right direction for free speech on campus

  • Department for Education publishes landmark proposal paper on free speech at university
  • ADF International supports step and calls for more to be done to tackle censorship on campus

LONDON (16 February 2021) – Today, the Department for Education released a report titled “Higher Education: Free Speech and Academic Freedom”, which recognises the harmful effects of censorship at UK universities, and lays out new proposals to tackle the problem.

ADF International, the human rights group which has been running a nationwide campaign calling for better speech protections on campus, welcomed the report as an encouraging development towards restoring a diverse and inclusive environment on UK campuses.

Ryan Christopher, Director of ADF International in the UK, said:

“We welcome the report issued today, which marks important progress towards the goal of protecting free speech at universities. Our recent polling highlights the importance of this issue. The report recommends the creation of a right of redress in law for students and individuals who have suffered the negative consequences of censorship in the academic sphere. The recognition of the harm caused by ‘cancel-culture’ will be meaningful to Julia Rynkiewicz, who we supported after she was suspended from her midwifery training at Nottingham University on account of her views. We hope that the proposals will open up access to justice for other students who, like Julia, may fall victim to discriminatory measures.”

The publication of the report is timely. New polling commissioned by the Reclaim Party and published only days ago found that 50% of respondents believed that freedom of speech is under threat. This bolsters findings in the recent ADF International poll where 50% of students declared that they worried their peers would treat them differently if they expressed their true views about some issues important to them. Over a third were fearful to share their opinion, should it adversely impact their future careers.

The report solidifies the recent announcement that a “Free Speech Champion” will be created with powers to defend free speech and academic freedom in universities. This ‘Champion’ will be able to directly penalise colleges or student bodies that attempt to entrench cancel-culture, based on new statutory powers given to the student regulator, the Office for Students. The newly announced proposals taken together represent an important step towards tackling the cancel-culture that has limited free expression and robust academic debate in recent years.

“These announcements are timely and come as positive developments – but more must be done, particularly to ensure that university staff receive the training that they need to recognise and uphold the free speech of students and foster an inclusive and diverse learning environment. While we welcome the proposals, we will continue to advocate for these better protections to be put into practice in order to achieve the change promised by education secretary Gavin Williamson when he identified the problem in 2020,” continued Christopher.

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