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Higher Education: Freedom of Expression

Department for Education written question – answered on 7th January 2020.

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Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he will take to promote (a) diversity of thought and (b) freedom of expression on university campuses.

Photo of Chris Skidmore Chris Skidmore Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

This government will ensure that our universities are places where free speech can thrive, and will strengthen academic freedoms.

The freedom to express views openly, challenge ideas and engage in robust debate is crucial to the student experience and to democracy. Individuals should never be in a position where they can be stopped from, or are made to feel inhibited in, expressing an opinion perfectly lawfully. Similarly, universities should be places where students are exposed to a range of views, including those which may be controversial, and are encouraged to debate and challenge them.

Free speech is protected in universities by law and is embedded in the Office for Students’ Regulatory Framework. Under the Education (No 2) Act 1986, universities have a specific duty to take reasonably practicable steps to secure freedom of speech within the law for staff, students and visiting speakers. The government worked with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, who published new guidance in February 2019 on freedom of speech in higher education to support higher education providers and students’ unions in delivering their duties.

The government will be looking closely at how well higher education providers are meeting these obligations and will consider whether further action is needed, working with a range of partners.

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