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Boris Johnson to feature free speech champion in revived crackdown at UK universities | UK | News




Growing concern in government circles is attempts by certain student groups to stifle free speech on campus. Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd was “platformless” last year at an event at Oxford University, leading to his last-minute cancellation. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warned of the “chilling effect” of what he called “silence” in universities.

The new role is part of a series of proposals, to be announced on Tuesday, aimed at boosting academic freedom at English universities.

The champion will sit on the board of the Students’ Office and be responsible for ensuring freedom of expression on campus.

Mr Williamson said: “Freedom of speech underpins our democratic society and our universities have a long and proud history of being places where students and academics can express themselves freely, challenge opinions and cultivate a open mind.

“But I am deeply concerned about the deterrent effect on campuses of unacceptable silence and censorship.

“That is why we must strengthen freedom of expression in higher education, strengthening existing legal obligations and ensuring that strong and solid action is taken in the event of violation of them.”

The government intends to impose legal obligations on universities to actively promote freedom of expression.

The Student Office will be empowered to impose fines on any institution that does not implement the new rules.

In addition, student unions will need to ensure that legal freedom of expression is guaranteed for members and guest speakers.

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Individuals will be able to sue universities if their rights to free speech are restricted in any way.

In a lightning attack in an editorial for the publication Reaction, Scottish columnist Gerald Walker accused British universities of becoming “awakened” societies.

Mr Walker, who worked as political adviser to former Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsyth, said: ‘Today, having originally embraced this corporate culture, the To the detriment of scholarly ideals, universities have followed the same trajectory – or, more precisely, have pioneered it – as their commercial counterparts: they have become “awakened” societies.

“In past centuries, there was only one forum in Europe, regardless of conditions elsewhere, in which freedom of speech, civil exchange of ideas and lively debate guaranteed intellectual freedom and that was the university community.


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“Today in all of our society there is no place where freedom of speech and thought is more violently suppressed than in our universities.”

The proposals in number 10 have drawn strong criticism from academic staff organizations.

Jo Grady, secretary general of the University and College Union, told the BBC: “The reality is that the greatest threats to academic freedom and freedom of expression do not come from staff and students, or from the community. so-called ‘cancellation culture’, but ministers’ own attempts to control what can and cannot be said on campus. “

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