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New Free Speech guidelines issued for UK Universities

By Emma Ogao

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has unveiled new free speech guidelines for higher education institutions and student unions across the UK. This comes following concerns over censorship and bureaucracy on university campuses.

Published in a 53-page document, the new guidelines detail the importance of protecting free speech as a legal requirement in universities, recommending that higher education institutions work to widen debate and encourage expression of views and opinion; including those that may “offend, shock, or disturb others”.

David Isaac, Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, says “the free expression and exchange of different views without persecution or interference goes straight to the heart of our democracy and is a vital part of higher education”.

“Holding open, challenging debates rather than silencing the views of those we don’t agree with helps to build tolerance and address prejudice and discrimination.”

The report also addresses protests stating that peaceful protests, although a form of expression, should not be allowed to shut down debate or infringe on the rights of other students.

In terms of controversial speakers, the new guidelines articulate that students possess the right to not invite controversial groups and organisations from speaking on their university campus. However, prohibiting or banning these groups from speaking may now be against the law. This has raised the question – how do universities plan to deal with controversial speakers whilst protecting the student body from ‘hate speech’, harassment and discrimination?

A Cardiff University spokesperson tells Gair Rhydd: “We have in place a robust Code of Practice which sets out the conduct required and which seeks to protect students and the wider university community as well as established processes and procedures for speaker bookings which seek to ensure both freedom of speech and dignity in the place of work and study”

“This means differing and often controversial views can be brought forward, listened to and challenged”

“We take all reasonable steps to ensure that – within the law – freedom of speech is protected”

To read more about the new free speech guidelines visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/free-speech-to-be-protected-at-university

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