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Be free or be fined – UK universities to be fined if they curb free speech

UK government cracks down on 'safe space' culture at universities. Source: shutterstock.com

UK universities have a reputation as being liberal, predominantly left-wing environments.

No more. The UK government is stepping in to protect free speech on campus.

Universities Minister, Jo Johnson has set out plans to clampdown down on universities who allow the SU to mollycoddle students by operating “safe space” policies. This will be done through the newly created Office of Students (OfS), which will have the power to fine or suspend universities who allow their SU to operate ‘no-platforming’ policies.

“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.” Johnson told The Guardian.

“Freedom of speech is a fundamentally British value which is undermined by a reluctance of institutions to embrace healthy vigorous debate. Our universities must open minds not close them,” he added.

The announcement comes after 63 percent of students voted in favor of the National Union of Students operating a no-platforming policy in a survey last year. The policy emphasizes safe spaces and does not allow those with “racist or fascist views” from speaking at NUS events.

Swinging left

It’s no secret that the majority of British students swing to the left, with 49 percent of degree educated people voting Labour in the last general election.

But, with a strong liberal majority and an increasing culture of ‘no-platforming’, universities are losing their reputation as enriching melting-pots of ideas.

Instead, it is feared that campuses are becoming empty echo chambers, where the only people welcome are the people who will confirm existing views.

While the minister acknowledged that there have been “good practice” to uphold free speech, Johnson said censorship is still happening in British campuses.

“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 was the fate of feminist writer Germaine Greer. The Women’s Officer at Cardiff University, Rachael Melhuish, called for her to be no-platformed for her “transphobic” views. Greer eventually spoke under tight security.

Among others who have faced no-platforming objections are Nick Lowles, director of Hope Not Hate, LGBT activist Peter Tatchell, Johnson’s brother Boris, and feminist activist and writer Julie Bindel.

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