Higher education minister Jo Johnson says institutions that fail to protect freedom of speech could be fined. He explained in
A university is the quintessential liberal institution. Not liberal in a narrow party political sense, but in the true liberal of free and rigorous inquiry, of liberty and of tolerance.
The liberal tradition is a noble and important one; but today it finds itself under threat. Liberal politics are under threat from national and populist parties around the world. Economic liberalism is under threat from those who turn to
protectionism for quick-fix solutions to complex problems.
Our universities, rather like the Festival we are today, should be places that open minds not close them, where ideas can be freely challenged and prejudices exposed.
But in universities in America and increasingly in the United Kingdom, there are countervailing forces of censorship, where groups have sought to stifle those who do not agree with them in every way under the banner of safe spaces or
However well-intentioned, the proliferation of such safe spaces, the rise of no-platforming, the removal of offensive books from libraries and the drawing up of ever more extensive lists of banned trigger words are undermining the principle of
free speech in our universities.
Without that basic liberal principle, our universities will be compromised.
Shield young people from controversial opinions, views that challenge their most profoundly held beliefs or simply make them uncomfortable, and you are on the slippery slope that ends up with a society less able to make scientific breakthroughs,
to be innovative and to resist injustice.
That's why the government is taking action now.
As part of our reforms to higher education, we have set up a new regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), which, as its name suggests, will regulate the university sector in a way that puts the interests of students first.
Created by the Higher Education & Research Act 2017, the OfS will come into being next week.
Promoting freedom of speech within the law will be at the heart of its approach to the regulation of our higher education system.
The OfS will go further than its predecessor in promoting freedom of speech.
In the Act, we extended the existing statutory duty on universities to secure free speech in the Education (No.2) Act 1986 so that it will apply to all providers of higher education registered with the OfS.
Furthermore, as a condition of registration with the new regulator, we are proposing that all universities benefitting from public money must demonstrate a clear commitment to free speech in their governance documents.
And the OfS will in turn use its regulatory powers to hold them to account for ensuring that lawful freedom of speech is upheld by their staff and students.
And I want to be clear about this: attempts to silence opinions that one disagrees with have no place in the English university system. Academics and students alike must not allow a culture to take hold where silence is preferable to a dissenting
If we want our universities to thrive, we must defend the liberal values of freedom of speech and diversity of opinion on which they depend.
Freedom of speech within the law must prevail in our society, with only the narrowest necessary exceptions justified by specific countervailing public policies.