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Universities: Freedom of Expression

Question for Department for Education

UIN HL13617, tabled on 23 February 2021

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the free speech duties they intend to place on universities will prohibit the implementation by universities of the duties placed on them under the Prevent programme.

Answered on

5 March 2021

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education, set out new measures to strengthen free speech and academic freedom at universities in England on 16 February 2021, in order to stamp out unlawful silencing on campuses. The new measures set out in the policy paper will help to ensure that our universities are places where free speech can thrive.

Higher education providers will continue to be subject to the Prevent duty under Section 26(1) of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. The government is clear that the Prevent Duty should not be used to suppress free speech; rather, it requires providers, when exercising their functions, to have due regard to the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism. There is no prescription from government (or the Office for Students) in regard to what action providers should take once they have had due regard. The legislation imposing the Prevent duty in relation to higher education specifically requires that providers must have particular regard to their duty to ensure freedom of speech and to the importance of academic freedom. As they already do, providers will continue to balance their legal duties, both in terms of ensuring freedom of speech and academic freedom, and also of protecting student and staff welfare.