UK Government to Appoint “Free Speech Champion” for Higher Education

London, UK

The UK Department for Education will appoint a “free-speech champion” for higher education, associated with changes to the law, in order to guarantee the protection of free speech in the country’s universities.

In addition to appointing the free speech champion, the government will also warn the heritage authorities against reassessing the British history amid the intensification of its culture war agenda, Erudera reports.

The role, based within the Office for Students, would include powers to punish universities or student unions which unfairly restrict free speech as well as to order action when individuals are dismissed.

“Unacceptable silencing and censoring on campuses is having a chilling effect,” a source from the Department of Education told the Telegraph.

Following the reporting of media that certain people with conservative views have been prohibited from speaking on campuses, a report published in 2018 by the parliamentary human rights committee pointed out that they“did not find the wholesale censorship of debate in universities which media coverage has suggested.”

But, according to the cross-party group, students were not required to invite speakers or cancel any of the events planned earlier, adding that speakers were also free to decide whether they wanted to share a platform with others or not.

“None of these is an interference on free speech rights,” they claimed.

The government’s initiative comes from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), and follows another government’s response against the Black Lives Matter movement and the UK’s colonial history, in particular slavery and monuments which commemorate it.

A roundtable discussion on this matter is set to be organized soon with two dozen heritage and culture bodies, which will be led by the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden. The following heritage and culture bodies will be part of it, among others:

  • the National Trust, Historic England
  • the British Museum

According to media reporting, Dowden has delivered a letter to institutions which points out that countries should not run or “airbrush the history upon which they are founded.

The DCMS points out that the meeting which will be held on February 22 is not expected to be conflictual, but aims to address the controversial heritage issues.

In June, during the protests which took place after George Floyd was killed by the police in Minneapolis, the US, the protesters demolished a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston and threw it in Bristol harbour which was later brought back.

Other discussions mostly took place about the monuments protected by private institutions instead of cultural institutions.

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