Universities and freedom of speech: one more time

For the second year running, the website spiked has published a particular university league table for the UK, providing ‘a detailed, annual insight into the state of free speech, debate and expression in the British academy.’ It presents universities in three categories: ‘red’ (universities that have ‘banned and actively censored ideas on campus’); amber (universities that have ‘chilled free speech through intervention’); and green (universities that have ‘a hands-off approach to free speech’). 115 institutions have been included.

By far the largest group consists of the ‘red’ universities, with 63 institutions. This includes some very familiar names, for example Oxford, LSE, and Queen’s in Ireland. Then there is the ‘amber’ group, with 40 universities including Cambridge, Aberdeen, York, and Ulster. The ‘green’ group of institutions that do not interfere with free speech has 12 universities, including my own RGU.

Oxford may be amongst the ‘red’ group, but its new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, has indicated that she would like to adjust this culture. Speaking at her installation she suggested that students should ‘appreciate the value of engaging with ideas they find objectionable, trying through reason to change another’s mind, while always being open to changing their own.’

Universities may increasingly be at risk of seeing intellectual challenge as a disturbance of scholarship rather than its affirmation. Free speech is the guarantor of academic integrity and should never be compromised, where it is within the law. In that sense the rankings published by spiked may serve a useful purpose.

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3 Comments on “Universities and freedom of speech: one more time”


  1. I fully share your views on the importance of free speech on university campuses, to the full extent possible under law. I would however like to know what these ratings mean, and the link that you give takes me only to the Spiked front page. It would be helpful if you could give either a summary of criteria, or a link to the page on the Spiked site that lists them.

    It would also be helpful to know whether the restrictions on free speech are coming from the university administration, or from the student union, or from some other source. Without information of this kind, I regard the categories as meaningless.

    • paulmartin42 Says:

      In my experience it is the student union – a separate universe of paid latte louches; the Times agrees with me. Otherwise Inspector Morse has shown that the Oxford Uni admin mafia are too busy somewhere else.

      The actual criteria don´t matter (as in a lot of academic work) but the aim in this exercise is to see the proletariat are discouraged from ¨thinking outside the box¨.

  2. Vince Says:

    They do get Belfast is in Ireland, and for the context of the publication, Ulster NI.
    But I wonder have they drilled down and categorised the banning. And odd how Aberystwyth is red but St Davids is green.


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