Universities will be fined for stifling free speech under plans drawn up by the education secretary.
Gavin Williamson will appoint a “free speech champion” who will sanction colleges or student bodies that are judged to “no-platform”, dismiss or demote people over their views.
The revelation prompted criticism from the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), who accused the government of attempting to stoke a “culture war”.
Gavin Williamson will appoint a “free speech champion” who will sanction colleges that dismiss or demote people over their views
WIKTOR SZYMANOWICZ/BARCROFT MEDIA VIA GETTY IMAGES
The move follows high-profile “no platformings”, where protests have led to the cancellation of appearances.
Last year Amber Rudd, the former home secretary, had an invitation to speak at an Oxford University society pulled half an hour before she was due to appear in protest over her handling of the Windrush scandal.
Separately, Oliver Dowden, culture secretary, will convene 25 of the UK’s largest heritage bodies and charities to tell them “to defend our culture and history from the noisy minority of activists constantly trying to do Britain down”.
An education department source told The Sunday Telegraph : “Free speech underpins our democratic society and our universities have a long and proud history of being places where students and academics can express themselves freely, challenge views and cultivate an open, inquiring mind.
“Unacceptable silencing and censoring on campuses is having a chilling effect and that is why we must strengthen free speech in higher education, by bolstering the existing legal duties and ensuring strong, robust action is taken if these are breached.”
The “free speech champion”, whose work will fall under the Office for Students, the student regulator, will be given powers to impose fines on those that restrict speech unlawfully and order redress if individuals have been dismissed or demoted for their views.
In response, Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, posted on social media: “The government appears to support free speech so much that despite there being no evidence of a free speech crisis on campus, they want to create a ‘free speech champion’ with the specific purpose of sanctioning institutions for allowing people to exercise choice and free speech. Job creation in pursuit of a culture war.
“Another gig for one of their mediocre and unexperienced pals no doubt.”
Dowden and Nigel Huddleston, the heritage minister, have asked 25 of the UK’s biggest heritage charities, museums and art galleries to a meeting tomorrow where they will be told to stop trying to “airbrush” history.
Attendees including the National Trust, Historic England, National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England, the National History Museum, the British Museum and the Imperial War Museum will be told to adopt the Government’s “retain and explain” stance.
In a letter to the Common Sense Group of MPs, Dowden said: “Whilst I agree that we should use heritage to educate people about Britain’s rich and complex history, this work should never be driven by ideology.
“Proud and confident nations face their past squarely; they do not seek to run from or airbrush the history upon which they are founded.
“History is ridden with moral complexity and interpreting Britain’s past should not be an excuse to tell an overly simplistic version of our national story.”
A department source said: “Oliver Dowden is a culture secretary who isn’t afraid to defend our culture and history from the noisy minority of activists constantly trying to do Britain down.”