UK

Universities Need To Guarantee Free Speech, Minister Jo Johnson Says

Urging end of 'no-platforming' and 'safe space' arguments.

19/10/2017 07:52 BST | Updated 19/10/2017 08:26 BST
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Jo Johnson told The Times universities must do more to protect free speech

Universities will be required to protect freedom of speech under sweeping new regulations, the government is set to announce, signalling an end to controversial “no-platforming” policies.

Jo Johnson, the universities minister, told The Times newspaper that fresh measures will be a statutory requirement of registration for the new Office for Students (OfS) regulator.

He said any institutions that failed to uphold the requirement could be fined, suspended or ultimately deregistered by the OfS.

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Germaine Greer was initially barred from speaking at Cardiff University in 2016 prompting a free speech row

Touching upon the controversy surrounding open debates on campuses, he said: “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.”

Highlighting the example of Germaine Greer, the feminist author, who was subject of a campaign against her appearance at Cardiff University two years ago, Johnson suggested so-called “no-platforming” and “safe spaces” are an affront to free speech.

“She has every right, if invited, to give views on difficult and awkward subjects,” he said. “No-platforming and safe spaces shouldn’t be used to shut down legitimate free speech.”

Brian Cox, professor at Manchester University, said he welcomed the move.

Johnson used his interview with the paper to outline reforms to the beleaguered universities sector, hit by post-Brexit nerves over research and recruitment and rocketing student debt.

He showed support for more two-year intensive degree programmes to cut indebtedness, ending so-called “grade deflation” and a lowering of standards, and tougher measures against plagiarism and cheating.