A key part of learning and education is getting exposed to new, different, and perhaps disagreeable ideas. This is how people are able develop diverse and varied viewpoints of their own, enriching wider society in the process. Rigorous debate - between academics, between students, and between academics and students, is a hugely important part of the university experience.
So it’s alarming to see that polling by the think tank Policy Exchange has shown that a number of current and retired academics are choosing to self-censor. As many as 32% of academics, who consider themselves right of centre politically, report feeling unable to express their views. Whilst it is never a divine right to spout whatever nonsense you please without social or professional consequences, it is a major problem if those in the academic field are effectively muzzled from pushing the boundaries of thinking and research.
This sort of backdrop allows for the very worst kind of echo chambers. One example is the extraordinary level of vitriol and aggression targeted towards those, like Professor Kathleen Stock, who merely express views on social issues which are in line with those of most right-minded people. We cannot allow ideological tyranny from a vociferous, intolerant, and frankly deranged minority. Therefore, I am glad that colleagues in the Government recognise this and are taking action to ensure universities have a duty to uphold free speech.
Similarly troubling is the influence of foreign powers on what is able to be discussed in universities. It’s bad enough that elites in the Chinese Communist Party seek to control what citizens in their own country are allowed to say, but it is truly an outrage that students or academics in the UK do not feel fully able to speak out against them, or draw attention to their well-documented trampling of basic human rights. Again, it is right that, through the Higher Education (Freedom of speech) Bill, the Government is taking action to protect our universities from undue foreign influence.
We must do all we can to uphold the very British values of freedom and democracy and I want us to live in a society where we enjoy the experience of hearing views with which we disagree. One where we relish the chance to argue against those views and where we strive to offer a well thought-out alternative instead of resorting to censorship.