Universities: Freedom of Expression

Department for Education written question – answered on 9th September 2020.

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Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Education), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department is taking to ensure freedom of academic thought and expression at UK universities.

Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Education), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, if his Department will commission a report on the level of academic freedom in UK universities.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

Universities must protect academic freedom and must be places where staff and students with a diverse range of views are comfortable to express their views without fear of repercussion.

A number of recent reports have provided evidence of a range of threats to freedom of speech and academic expression at UK universities. A 2019 report by Kings College London found signs of a “chilling effect”; as 1 in 4 students reported that they were scared to express their views for fear of repercussions.

A recent report by Policy Exchange found that some academics feel similarly reluctant to express their views, with some academics reporting that they face discrimination throughout recruitment and promotion processes as a result of their political views.

Lawful free speech and academic freedom must be supported to the fullest extent at universities so that students, staff and visiting speakers feel free to explore a range of ideas and challenge perceived wisdom. Academic freedom is essential, and individuals or groups of academics must be free to carry out research even on contentious issues. We are exploring a range of legislative and non-legislative options to ensure this and my department will set out further steps in due course.

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