Politics

Labour accuses Government of ‘manufacturing’ free speech row at universities


The appointee will investigate potential free speech infringements, such as no-platforming speakers or dismissal of academics.

The Standard asked the Department for Education if the “free speech champion” will be a full-time post and how much the salary would be, but was told only that it would be a “new role” and there were no further details at this stage.

Shadow universities minister Emma Hardy said the Government has “all the wrong priorities”.

She told the Standard: “When students need urgent help with their finances, accessing online learning and their mental health, ministers have manufactured an argument to distract from their failings.”

University and College Union general secretary Jo Grady said the Government appeared more interested in fighting “phantom threats to free speech” than taking action to contain the “real and present danger” which Covid-19 poses to staff and students.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warned of the threat of a “cancel culture”

/ Parliament TV

And Hillary Gyebi-Ababio of the National Union of Students said: “There is no evidence of a freedom of expression crisis on campus”.

Under the plans, students and academics will also be able to sue their universities for stifling free speech on campus. Individuals will be able to seek compensation through the courts if they suffer from a breach of the free speech duties – such as being expelled, dismissed or demoted.

A free speech condition will be placed on universities for them to be registered and access public funding. The Office for Students (OfS) regulator will have the power to impose fines on institutions if they breached the condition.

It comes as Mr Williamson warned of the threat of a “cancel culture” and a “rising intolerance” within universities across the country.

Mr Williamson said: “Free speech underpins our democratic society and our universities have a 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 on campuses 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.”



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