The universities minister Sam Gyimah says new legislation on campus free speech is needed.
He said the rise in ‘no-platforming’ and ‘safe spaces’ has led views perceived as unpalatable being blocked, and called it “chilling”.
Gyimah is holding an invite-only seminar today where he will reportedly suggest the Department of Education oversees new guidelines.
The government has not intervened on university policies around free speech since 1986, when the Education Act – which includes a clause on free speech – was passed.
Universities UK, the advocacy group for British universities, says the clause, which states that “the use of any premises of the establishment is not denied to any individual or body of persons”, does not mean it’s compulsory to invite particular speakers.
Speaking to Julia Hartley-Brewer this morning, Claire Fox, director of free speech think-tank Academy of Ideas, said the idea of government intervention made her “nervous”.
“I am a bit worried about the government clamping down on it,” she said.
But she agreed with the assertion that speech was being curtailed in universities.
“I think there are culture wars on campus. Many students don’t like the censorious atmosphere – they feel they have to walk on eggshells, and it’s dangerous, this call-out culture,” she said.
“We’ve seen the offence culture and people being outraged spreading outside of university campuses.”
She claimed that the National Union of Students (NUS), downplays the no-platforming culture she says is prevalent.
“One of the most annoying things is a denial that is going on.
“I did a debate at Trinity College in Cambridge last night on this very topic and the NUS speaker was very clear – ‘this is made-up, tabloid, scaremongering’.
“There’s a real danger of people denying this is happening because they don’t even see they’re doing it, which is even more worrying to me.
“They think this is a perfectly legitimate thing to do and that it’s fine to say, ‘we’ll choose who we have as a speaker, it’s all very reasonable’, without recognising the chilling impact it’s having.”
A representative from the NUS will be attending today’s seminar, and talkRADIO has contacted them for a comment.
Listen to the full interview with Fox above.