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Freedom of Speech in Universities

Volume 721: debated on Monday 24 October 2022

This Government are committed to the protection of freedom of speech and academic freedom in universities. The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will strengthen existing freedom of speech duties and introduce clear consequences for breaches as well as a duty on universities and colleges to promote the importance of freedom of speech and academic freedom.

How my right hon. Friend and his team address the concerns of many that mandating university students and staff to complete training in contested theory such as unconscious bias, like the Radcliffe Department of Medicine’s implicit bias course or the University of Kent’s Expect Respect course, is worrisome, especially given recent data from the King’s College “The state of free speech” report on the increasing reluctance of students to engage in challenging debate.

I know my hon. Friend recognises that universities and colleges are independent organisations. None the less, I share his concerns that where opinions, beliefs or theories that are contested are presented, they should not be presented to young minds alone. The context in which they are created, and indeed the arguments for and against, should be presented to young people. Indeed, it is the duty of those who are tasked with the education of young minds to give the widest possible sense of perspective on all these issues.