Eighty percent of UK Universities have failed to offer their students a free speech environment, according to a new rating system launched today. Spiked Magazine, which campaigns for Free Speech, asked senior academics with expertise in education to give every UK institution a green amber or red rating.
The academics, Professor Dennis Hayes, head of the centre for educational research at Derby University and Dr Joanna Williams, senior lecturer in higher education at Kent University looked at the policies of the universities themselves and their Students’ Unions in order to come up with an accurate picture.
Out of 115 Universities just 23 were given a ‘green’ clean bill of health, with 45 being given ‘amber’ meaning the institution had “chilled free speech through intervention”. The remaining 47 were given the ‘red’ rating, which means they had “banned and actively censored ideas on campus”.
Amongst the ‘red’ institutions were a number of big names that might have been expected to be defenders of free thought, including the LSE, King’s College London and Oxford University. Some institutions may be pleasantly surprised by the new rankings, not least the University of East Anglia which was given a clean bill of health despite its ban of UKIP from its campus.
UEA is believed to have avoided criticism because researchers took into account that the Students’ Union had demanded the ban, whereas the University did not seek to ban the political party. The most prestigious University to be rated ‘green’ was Exeter University, long considered a bastion of free market thinkers.
Tom Slater, assistant editor at Spiked and co-ordinator of the tables told the Guardian: “What’s worrying is we seem to have moved away from a clear ideological divide to an apolitical calculation as to who should be censored, because of a wider judgment based purely on the potential to upset and offend… We found a few startling examples.”
One of the examples he referred to was an incident in which South Bank University demanded the Atheist Society take down its posters to avoid offending anyone. Slater claimed this was evidence of “how wide that net is becoming” something that he described as “troubling, because it could go anywhere.”
One of the country’s worst offenders was Essex, where both the University and the Students’ Union actively opposed free speech. But the institution hit back at Spiked claiming it was “absurd” it was given a red ranking “for providing guidance to our community about avoiding homophobic behaviour, in line with the Equality Act 2010.
“We make no apology for working to ensure all our staff and students are treated with dignity and respect.”
The ratings come as more and more educational institutions are being exposed for either ‘no platforming’ speakers or teaching their students that various politicians are ‘fascists’. The issue of free speech is also in focus after the attack on Charlie Hebdo suggested that terrorists may be trying to impose Sharia blasphemy laws in Europe.