Students and academics will be able to sue their universities for suffocating their free speech on campus under new Government plans to tackle the ‘very real and alarming threat of censorship’.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has unveiled plans for a ‘free speech champion’ who will have the power to defend academics amid rising fears institutions are trying to cancel people due to their views.
It comes after a December report claimed more than a third of universities are imposing ‘severe’ restrictions on freedom of speech.
Mr Williamson warned of the threat of a ‘cancel culture’ and a ‘rising intolerance’ within universities across the country.
Students and academics will be able to sue if they are denied the right to free speech at university. (Stock image)
He wrote in The Daily Telegraph: ‘Last year, I warned our vice-chancellors and leaders of the very real and alarming threat of censor- ship and a ‘cancel culture’ within our universities.
‘I made very clear where I, and the rest of the Government, stood on the matter; that we were on the side of lawful free speech and academic freedom, and that we would back this commitment in law if we had to. ‘
The Education Secretary went on to describe how despite repeated warnings, there were a growing number of cases whereby academics were being silenced and students wrongfully expelled.
He added: ‘Under this rising intolerance, students have found themselves wrongfully expelled from their courses academics fired and others forced to live under a threat of violence.’
Mr Williamson today warned universities and colleges that sanctions would be imposed on them in a bid to bolster free speech protections.
The move will see students and academics who feel their free speech has been denied be able to seek compensation through the courts.
It also means student unions and higher-education facilities will have to promote free speech on campuses and a ‘free speech champion’ will be a part of the Office for Students regulator.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warned of the threat of a ‘cancel culture’ and a ‘rising intolerance’ within universities
A December report claimed more than a third of universities are imposing ‘severe’ restrictions on freedom of speech
It comes as Culture secretary Oliver Dowden prepares to meet with the top 25 heritage bodies in the country next week to address their recent stances on free speech.
Those at the meeting include the National Trust, Historic England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England, the National History Museum, the British Museum and the Imperial War Museum.
Last year a report by think-tank Civitas claimed more than a third of universities are imposing ‘severe’ restrictions on freedom of speech.
The situation was so bad in 48 universities – 35 per cent – that it warranted legislation to stop campus censorship, the study said.
Another 70 institutions (51 per cent) saw some failures which should be examined by watchdog the Office for Students.
The report, entitled Academic Freedom in Our Universities: the Best and the Worst, also found 68 per cent of institutions have had a free speech controversy since 2017.