At PMQs today Theresa May called safe spaces “extraordinary” and said universities should instead be places of “open debate”.
“Everybody is finding this concept of safe spaces quite extraordinary, frankly. We want to see that innovation of thoughts taking place in our universities. That’s how we develop as a society and as an economy”, she said.
“We want our universities not just to be places of learning, but to be places where there can be open debate which is challenged.”
This comes amid an international row over free speech kicked off after author Lionel Shriver in a keynote speech in Brisbane, where she called the idea of cultural appropriation a “passing fad”.
“I am hopeful that the concept of “cultural appropriation” is a passing fad: people with different backgrounds rubbing up against each other and exchanging ideas and practices is self-evidently one of the most productive, fascinating aspects of modern urban life”, she said.
“In the latest ethos, which has spun well beyond college campuses in short order, any tradition, any experience, any costume, any way of doing and saying things, that is associated with a minority or disadvantaged group is ring-fenced: look-but-don’t-touch.”
Jassmin Abdel-Magiid wrote that she had walked out of Shriver’s lecture in protest, calling it “a poisoned package wrapped up in arrogance and delivered with condescension.”
The row has raged on social media in the last few days.
The concept of safe spaces at universities originated in reference to bars and clubs where gay people could gather without fear of being prosecuted.
In the last few years the the term has been widened to include places where students can avoid offensive ideas. It has been criticised as an excuse for shutting down debate and free speech.