Universities adopting a ‘no-platforming’ policy could be fined as part of the government’s clampdown on the restriction of freedom of speech in higher education. A newly-created external body would check whether institutions are complying.
Jo Johnson, the universities minister and brother of fellow Tory minister Boris Johnson, outlined plans to tackle the so-called ‘safe spaces’ in academic environments.
The proposed framework would allow for the newly designated Office of Students (OfS) to fine, suspend or deregister universities that fail to protect freedom of speech on campuses.
The proposals come as part of a consultation on how English universities will be regulated by the OfS, which will assume legal powers in April.
In an interview, Johnson told the Times: “No-platforming and safe spaces shouldn’t be used to shut down legitimate free speech.
“Our young people and students need to accept the legitimacy of healthy, vigorous debate in which people can disagree with one another.
“That’s how ideas get tested, prejudices exposed and society advances [sic].
“Universities mustn’t be places in which free speech is stifled.”
A survey last year found that 63 percent of universities would support the National Union of Students (NUS) having a “no platforming” policy.
It also follows findings by Spiked magazine, backed by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, that more than nine in 10 UK universities are restrictive of free speech.
Johnson launched the consultation saying freedom of speech is a principle underscoring higher education and British democracy.
He added: “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.”