To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether he is taking steps to prohibit no platform policies in universities; and if he will make a statement.
This government has been clear in its commitment to strengthen academic freedom and ensure that our universities are places where free speech can thrive. Without action to counter attempts to discourage or even silence unpopular views, intellectual life on campus for both staff and students may be unfairly narrowed and diminished. That is why there is a commitment in the 2019 manifesto to strengthen academic freedom and free speech at universities.
Academic freedom is a fundamental principle in the English higher education sector, as recognised in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 and other legislation, allowing academic staff to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges.
Free speech is protected in universities by law. Under the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, universities have a duty to “take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for members, students and employees of the establishment and for visiting speakers”.
Higher education providers registered with the Office for Students must also comply with the ongoing registration condition to meet Public Interest Governance Principles. Principles I and VII relate to academic freedom and free speech.
There have been some examples of attempts to restrict free speech under the banner of no-platforming or safe spaces, and it is important that this does not become commonplace. The government does not support blanket no-platforming of individuals or organisations.
Individual providers have the autonomy to take their own decisions about which individuals are invited to speak on campus. However, in all circumstances, higher education providers must ensure they are complying with their freedom of speech duty obligations.
To further strengthen academic freedom and free speech, a range of legislative and non-legislative options are being considered, and ministers will be looking at these carefully, working closely with regulatory bodies to assess next steps.