By Marie-Claire Alfonso
Universities minister, Jo Johnson, announced plans that would allow the new Office for Students (OfS) to fine, suspend or deregister universities if they do not commit to uphold freedom of speech.
Johnson said: “I want the OfS to work with universities to encourage a culture of openness and debate and ensure that those with different backgrounds or perspectives can flourish in a higher education environment.”
This follows a trend of universities using “safe spaces” and “no platforming” in order to shut down public speakers on campus. Analysis by Spiked magazine, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, found that more than 9 in 10 UK universities are restrictive of free speech. The Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) surveyed British universities and found that 63.5% of students’ unions were “severely restrictive of free speech.”
The FSUR has named Cardiff University as one of the worst offenders for being restrictive of free speech, naming it in the top 5 most “ban-happy” universities. Cardiff has banned sales of tabloid newspapers and pornographic magazines in the WHSmiths located in the SU, as well as songs with offensive lyrics on SU club nights and on the student radio station Xpress.
In 2015, Cardiff University was in the news, when feminist writer Germaine Greer was almost banned from doing a lecture. There was a call for her to be “no-platformed” for her trans-phobic views. Despite the campaign to silence her, Greer was able to speak at the university under high security.
Sir Michael Barber, chairman of the OfS, said: “Ensuring freedom of speech and learning how to disagree with diverse opinions and differing views of the world is a fundamental aspect of learning at university. The OfS will promote it vigorously.” The OfS will be getting its legal powers in April 2018.