Gavin Williamson to appoint Free Speech Champion to sanction 'censorship' at universities

Emily O'Dowd on the Education Secretary's plan to strengthen free speech at universities.

Emily O'Dowd
1st March 2021
Image: Flickr
The Education Secretary has announced that tougher legal measures are to be implemented at universities in England in order to stamp out "unlawful silencing" on campuses with the help of a Free Speech Champion.

The new measures proposed by the government will be regulated by the Office for Students and will include a free speech condition placed on universities in order to be registered in England and access public funding.

The Office for Students will have the power to impose sanctions, including financial penalties, for breaches of this condition.

The new rules will also extend to Student Unions who, under the new measures, will have a responsibility to secure free speech for their members and for any visiting speakers. 

If individuals believe that they have suffered losses as a result of a breach of free speech such as being expelled, dismissed or demoted, they will also be able to seek compensation through the courts. 

The Free Speech and Academic Freedom Champion that the Education Secretary is planning to appoint will have the right to investigate potential infringements to the new measures such as no-platforming of speakers or the dismissal of academics.

The Champion will also be able to recommend that the Office for Students impose fines on universities who are considered to be breaching free speech, something they will now legally be required to promote. 

I am deeply worried about the chilling effect on campuses of unacceptable silencing and censoring

Gavin Williamson, Education Secretary

The measures come after Gavin Williamson declared that he is "deeply worried about the chilling effect on campuses of unacceptable silencing and censoring”.

The Education Secretary also called for action like this last year when the former Home Secretary Amber Rudd was no-platformed at an event at Oxford University that was cancelled half an hour before it was supposed to start.

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