Universities Warned Over Gagging Clauses To Prevent Students' Criticism

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Universities have been warned against gagging their students after Edinburgh University slapped a clause on its student union preventing it making "detrimental statements" without giving prior notice.

Following a public outcry, the institution scrapped the gagging order, prompting the National Union of Students (NUS) to warn other universities who may be considering following suit. The university told student leaders they would have to give 48 hours notice to management for any critical material they were thinking of publishing. The agreement was part of a £2.3m grant given to the Edinburgh University Students' Association (EUSA), according to Edinburgh News.

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Documents seen by student paper The Journal show a draft contract proposed by the university gave high-ranking university officials to have the power to amend statements made by the students' association.

Gordon Maloney, president of NUS Scotland, said: "We welcome the news Edinburgh University has recognised its mistake and acted quickly to remove a clause that could have significantly damaged the relationship between the institution and the elected representatives of the students.

"The lesson of this entire incident is that institutions such as Edinburgh fail their students when they fail to encourage critical voices that aim to hold the powerful to account."

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The EUSA was itself criticised earlier this year for gagging its own student paper in a legal row. The union was granted an injunction by a court to ban an article which called its vice president's reputation into question.

Edinburgh student Hugh Murdoch told the Herald Scotland: "Our ability to hold the university to account should never have been restricted.

"We've normally got a really strong working relationship with them so it is great that they've seen that they were in the wrong on this point and have agreed to remove the condition from the grant."

The university added: "We take the welfare of our students very seriously and have always enjoyed a positive working relationship with their elected representatives.

"In the light of recent discussions with the students' association we have agreed to amend the contract to remove the requirement for advance notification."

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