9 in 10 universities are restricting free speech

24 February 2017

9 in 10 UK universities are now restricting free speech in some way, according to a survey by online magazine Spiked.

Almost two thirds (63.5%) now actively censor speech, and 30.5% stifle speech through excessive regulation, indicating a steady rise in censorship over the past three years.

Only 6% of universities have not imposed any censorship on their students.

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern, said that Christians must stand with those under attack for speaking truth, continue to speak the truth about Jesus themselves.

How does the survey work?

The Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR), issued by Spiked, covers policies and bans relating to all types of free expression, from both university administrations and student unions.

This includes what students can say, what publications, songs or adverts they can engage with and which speakers they can to invite to campus.

It also covers “policies and actions that constitute thought reform, such as mandatory conduct classes and policies that require students to say certain things”, according to Spiked.

The survey categorised the universities into a traffic light system.

1 in 4 university administrations ‘hostile’ to free speech

Universities branded ‘red’ banned and actively censored ideas on campus, while ‘amber’ universities ‘chilled’ free speech through intervention.

Almost a quarter (23.5%) of university administrations were branded ‘red’, a 15% increase from last year.

According to the survey, these universities are “hostile to free speech and free expression, mandating explicit restrictions on speech, including, but not limited to, bans on specific ideologies, political affiliations, beliefs, books, speakers or words”.

64% of student unions were branded ‘red’.

However, 16 were given ‘green’ ratings (meaning they have not restricted or regulated speech and expression in any way) – compared with 12 university administrations.

44% had ‘no-platform policies’

There were 129 bans among institutions’ actions that the survey considered restrictive.

This included 21 institutions that banned speakers and 20 that banned newspapers.

44% of institutions had ‘no-platform policies’ that banned ‘fascist, racist and Islamist groups’. 43% had censorious ‘religion and belief policies’, and 34% had restrictive ‘transgender’ policies.

The rise in censorship

Taking administration and students’ unions as a whole, 73 institutions were branded ‘red’, and 35 were branded ‘amber’.

Several of those branded ‘red’ this year had been branded ‘amber’ in last year’s survey, while some branded ‘amber’ this year had been ‘green’ last year.

‘Illiberal, patronising outlook’

Tom Slater, co-ordinator of FSUR, commented: “Students’ unions have been pilloried for censoring ‘transphobic’ speech and enforcing transgender pronouns. But our research shows the vast majority of policies in this area stem from universities themselves.

“While students’ unions are significantly more censorious – and deserve all the criticism they get – universities often share and affirm their illiberal, patronising outlook.”

‘Stand with those who are being censored’

Commenting on the findings, Andrea Williams emphasised the need for believers to “stand with those who are being censored”:

“It’s extraordinary to think that it was ten years ago that the Christian Legal Centre were involved in the Christian Union at Exeter [University] being removed from the campus because Exeter Students’ Union said its policies were discriminatory… Why? Because people… had to sign a statement of faith, and that discriminated against non-believers.

“Where truth is under attack, where people are being censored, we need to stand with those who are being censored.”

Last year, a student at the University of Sheffield was removed from his social work course for expressing the biblical view of marriage on his own Facebook page. Felix Ngole is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre as he challenges the removal from his course.

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