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Educational Institutions: Freedom of Expression

Question for Department for Education

UIN HL9589, tabled on 26 October 2020

To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the letter by the Secretary of State for Education to university vice-chancellors about the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, what steps they are taking to ensure that freedom of speech is safeguarded in educational institutions.

Answered on

9 November 2020

Universities are required by law to uphold freedom of speech, allowing academics, students, and visiting speakers to challenge ideas and to discuss controversial subjects. In state-funded schools, it is a requirement to teach a broad and balanced curriculum in a way that encourages freedom of speech. We have made clear that if universities do not act to uphold free speech, the government will.

The right to free speech, however, does not include the right to harass others or incite them to commit acts of violence or terrorism. Universities also have responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 regarding discrimination and harassment, as well as responsibilities under the Prevent duty.

The government urges higher education (HE) institutions to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. The Department for Education considers this to be an important tool in tackling antisemitism and a strong signal that HE institutions take these issues seriously.

As autonomous institutions, this decision rests with individual HE institutions, but the government will explore all mechanisms to make sure all HE institutions sign up to this.

We are exploring a range of legislative and non-legislative options to ensure that free speech and academic freedom are protected at our universities and the Department for Education will set out further steps in due course.