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Higher Education: Freedom of Expression

Question for Department for Education

UIN HL13834, tabled on 2 March 2021

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that policies on higher education and freedom of speech are based on (1) accurate research, and (2) evidence which reflects a balance of information.

Answered on

12 March 2021

There is growing concern within the government that free speech and academic freedom on some university campuses is being affected by increasing intolerance of ideas which challenge conventional wisdom, leading to a chilling effect whereby not all students and staff may feel able to express themselves without fear of repercussions. There have been a number of studies, surveys, and reports highlighting instances where freedom of speech and academic freedom is being curtailed in the higher education sector – including from King’s College London, the University and College Union, Policy Exchange, and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

Alongside this, there have been a small number of high-profile reported incidents in which staff or students have been threatened with negative consequences, including loss of privileges or dismissal, sometimes successfully, confirming that the fear of repercussion is not always unfounded.

Officials and Ministers continue to work with a wide range of groups and bodies across the higher education sector, including Universities UK and the National Union of Students, to ensure that our universities are places where free speech can thrive.