Universities Minister calls for free speech to be ‘actively promoted’ on university campuses

The Minister of State for Universities and Science, Sam Gyimah, has said he will ensure that the Charity Commission’s rules are ‘clear and don’t discourage student unions from hosting controversial speakers’ in a move to protect free speech at universities.

It comes after Jacob Rees-Mogg MP gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights in Parliament earlier this week.

In a tweet sent by the committee, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “I am more worried about the Charity Commission saying student unions can’t invite controversial speakers. In my experience, students are not the problem; they like to push boundaries of free speech.”

Now, Sam Gyimah promises to set sights on the Charity Commission, which oversees student unions.

“It needs to ensure that its rules are clear and don’t discourage student unions from hosting controversial speakers, and it should protect free speech on all sides — from Nigel Farage to Jon Lansman of Momentum,” he said in an article for The Times.

The minister also said that ‘we live in an environment where people can go online and retreat into their own echo chamber’.

“We can’t let our campuses become like our Facebook feeds; a university education isn’t just meant to transmit knowledge and skills, but to widen horizons by assaulting the senses of our young people.

“The ‘Uni experience’ should be diverse, demanding and disorientating. Only then can you find your own way and discover who you are,” he said.

“If you want a thriving political culture nationally, it has to start in our education system.” –
Sam Gyimah. Photo: Ben Grey/Flickr.

The news comes a week after the University of Lincoln and Lincoln Students’ Union received ‘red’ status in this year’s Free Speech Ratings by online magazine Spiked.

‘Red’ means a university ‘has banned and actively censored ideas on campus’, while ‘green’ means they have ‘a hands-off approach to free speech’.

In the report on Spiked’s website, it says that the University of Lincoln and the Students’ Union collectively create a ‘hostile environment’ for free speech.

“The university has maintained its Amber ranking, restricts ‘offensive’ speech.

“The students’ union, which has maintained its Red ranking, has a No Platform policy, banning racists and fascists, and a Safe Space policy, which states that speakers can be ejected if any complaint is made against them.”

In his article, Sam Gyimah went on to add that rules need to made simpler around public speakers.

“Part of the action I will be taking will be to bring together all the relevant bodies to prioritise simplifying the rules and regulations around speakers and events to stop overzealous bureaucrats or wreckers on campus from exploiting gaps for their own ends,” he said.

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