Tougher legal measures to strengthen free speech and academic freedom at universities in England have been announced by the Education Secretary today (16 February), to stamp out unlawful ‘silencing’ on campuses.
Following an increasing number of cases of individuals being silenced, the Education Secretary has warned of a ‘chilling effect’ where students and staff feel they cannot express themselves freely.
The proposed measures deliver on a manifesto commitment, and include a new free speech condition placed on higher education providers in order to be registered in England and access public funding. The regulator, the Office for Students, would have the power to impose sanctions, including financial penalties, for breaches of the condition.
The strengthened legal duties would also extend to Students Unions, which for the first time would have to take steps to ensure that lawful free speech is secured for their members and others, including visiting speakers.
In addition, a new legal measure would enable individuals to seek compensation through the courts if they suffer loss as a result of breach of the free speech duties – such as being expelled, dismissed or demoted.