The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill aims to ‘stamp out unlawful ‘silencing’’.Adi Ulici/UNSPLASH

A bill has been introduced to Parliament today (12/05) which aims to protect freedom of speech on university campuses, according to a statement from the Department of Education.

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will require universities and student unions to defend freedom of speech for students, visiting speakers, and academics in order to “stamp out unlawful ‘silencing’”.

The measures will apply to all universities and colleges registered with the Office for Students.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said it is abasic human right” to be able “to express ourselves freely and take part in rigorous debate.”

He added: “Our legal system allows us to articulate views which others may disagree with as long as they don’t meet the threshold of hate speech or inciting violence. This must be defended, nowhere more so than within our world-renowned universities.”

He continued: “Holding universities to account on the importance of freedom of speech in higher education is a milestone moment in fulfilling our manifesto commitment, protecting the rights of students and academics, and countering the chilling effect of censorship on campus once and for all.”

As a result of the bill, which the Department for Education states aims to “protect the reputation of our universities as centres of academic freedom”, legal duties will for the first time be extended to student unions, who must “take reasonably practicable steps” to ensure that freedom of speech is protected.


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A new Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom will sit on the board of the Office for Students, and will be tasked with investigating breaches of the duty, with a new complaints scheme for students, staff and visiting speakers set to be introduced.

Individuals will gain a right to seek compensation through the courts where breaches have occurred in freedom of speech duties.

Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan said: “The values of freedom of speech and academic freedom are a huge part of what makes our higher education system so well respected around the world.”

She explained that the bill would not only protect free speech, but “promote it too”, adding: “After all how can we expect society to progress or for opinions to modernise unless we can challenge the status quo?”

The bill follows the announcement of the appointment of a “free speech champion” with the power to fine universities and student unions in February.

The statement released today (12/05) by the Department for Education emphasises that the government “has been clear throughout” that it is important to “distinguish between lawful, if offensive, views on one hand and unacceptable acts of abuse, intimidation, and violence on the other.”

It emphasised the need to comply with legal duties on discrimination and harassment as well as “their [Higher Education Institutions’] legal duties to protect freedom of speech”.