The National Union of Students says the government will not be ‘cracking down’ on university no-platforming.
Earlier today it was reported that the higher education minister Sam Gyimah had called for amendments to guidelines on free speech at university.
“A society in which people feel they have a legitimate right to stop someone expressing their views on campus simply because they are unfashionable or unpopular is rather chilling,” he was quoted as saying.
In a seminar this afternoon, he was expected to announce the details of the crackdown, but NUS Vice President, who attended the seminar, said no such measures were announced.
“From our understanding of the meeting, there is no new guidance that’s been produced today,” Amatey Doku told talkRADIO.
“There is no new legislation or policy that would in any way restrict student unions or no-platforming policies, which is why the whole media interest in this has been confusing.”
He said the issue arose after the Joint Committee on Human Rights said the guidelines on university free speech needed simplifying, and the NUS gave evidence to the committee earlier this year.
On Julia Hartley-Brewer’s breakfast show this morning (May 3) director of think-tank Academy of Ideas Claire Fox said she’d debated an NUS representative who “denied” there was any stifling of free speech at universities – that representative was Doku.
“We spend more time debating the topic than looking at the evidence that’s there,” he said.
“When a story does come up, it’s recycled stories from years back that are used to demonstrate it [the so-called problem of no-platforming].”
He said that sometimes, speakers may not be able to participate in events due to health and safety regulations rather than them being silenced.
“Unions or the university sometimes want to invite people and invite them to comply to health and safety regulations to ensure the event can take place, and people use that to say they’re being silenced because of the bureaucratic hoops they have to jump through,” he said.
He added that the issue of free speech didn’t tend to be a pressing one among students.
“When I speak to students on a daily basis, they talk about about student finance, mental health, adequate resources – this topic doesn’t even factor in,” he said.
“It seems to be a narrow focus of certain individuals conflating freedom of speech, safe spaces and trigger warnings into one big issue, and thinking the uncovering of uncomfortable truths is clamping down on freedom of expression.”
He asserted that the NUS supported no-platforming, but that individual universities were free to invite whoever they wanted to speak there.
“We have a no-platform policy at the NUS which has been voted in democratically by our members,” he explained.
“Organisations which we say hold racist or fascist views are then often prescribed so by the government. Few people think our list is contentious.
“We don’t tell our members what to do. On campus, students can, if they want, adopt no-platforming policies, or they can invite who they want to their events."