Earlier in the year the government extended the statutory duty to secure free speech so that it will apply to all providers of higher education registered with the new Office for Students in the Higher Education and Research Act (HERA). The Office for Students will be able to hold providers to account to ensure that lawful freedom of speech is upheld by their staff and student unions and student societies.
In a speech this week the Universities Minister has asked the OfS to focus on ensuring institutions recognise the importance of freedom of speech and the role it plays in ensuring open debate. The aim is to ensure students are exposed to a wide range of issues and ideas in a safe environment without fear of censorship, rebuke or reprisal.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson said “Free speech is one of the foundations on which our higher education tradition is built. It goes to the heart of our democratic values and is a principle I know universities hold dear”.
“I know there is good practice out there, and am proud that some of our university leaders and academics have publicly defended free speech. But there are still examples of censorship where groups have sought to stifle those who do not agree with them”.
“This is why I want the OfS to work with universities to encourage a culture of openness and debate and ensure that those with different backgrounds or perspectives can flourish in a higher education environment”.
Chair of the Office for Students, Sir Michael Barber said “Ensuring freedom of speech and learning how to disagree with diverse opinions and differing views of the world is a fundamental aspect of learning at university. The OfS will promote it vigorously.”