Record restrictions on university free speech

12 Feb 2017


A new survey has found that a record 63.5% of UK universities severely restrict and censor free speech on their campuses. In its third annual reporting on university free speech it was revealed that only 6% of universities surveyed were truly open and free of restrictions on students.


The Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) is conducted on a yearly basis by Spiked, an online only current affairs magazine, and looks at 115 UK universities. The FSUR analyses and compares policies and bans relating to free speech in force at universities across the country. Each policy is given a traffic light rating on how heavily it restricts free speech. The survey then takes each rating in to account to award an overall green, amber or red flag on how officious the university rules.


Rapidly Rising Red Flags


In this survey 73 of the 115 universities studied were awarded overall red flags meaning they are deemed to severely restrict free speech or may have bans on certain ideologies, political persuasions or particular books or speakers. Included among these 73 are Durham and Edinburgh as well as Oxford whose Policy and Procedure on Harassment and Bullying was given a red flag.


A further 35 universities were given amber flags which means they may have guidelines but not bans or may vet speakers or books but not ban. Only 7 universities came out of the survey with green, fully open, reviews.


The amount of restrictions to free speech at universities has never been higher according to this survey, which reports a 23% rise in red flags from its first survey in 2015 when only 40% of universities were given the red ranking.


Survey Response


Tom Slater, coordinator of FSUR and deputy editor of Spiked, the magazine behind the survey, pinpoints two ‘concerning’ trends in growing restrictions on religious and transgender discussions. 43% of universities were found to hold religion and belief policies which prevent offensive comments on the subject while transphobic propaganda is banned at eight universities


Mr Slater writes that on the survey’s findings arguing that, “Students go to university to expand their mind, to challenge themselves, to be free - and that’s impossible under the dead hand of censorship and regulation.” However the survey has not been without its critics, Deputy President of the National Union of Students (NUS) suggests that, “Sometimes the only way you can ensure safe spaces remain safe is through no-platform policies.”


The Yorker, a student run online magazine, claims that the National Union of Students said: “Spiked Magazine’s university rankings are vile. They are the epitome of this challenge to safe(r) spaces, and they are misleading and wrongheaded,” during a motion ‘defending Safe(r) spaces and no platforming’.


Whether you believe anything should be allowed to be debated and discussed on a university campus or you back a slightly more prohibitive approach, it appears unquestionable, according to this study, that universities are taking a firmer stance on what students can and cannot discuss.


To see a university by university breakdown of results visit this website.

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