One in three students say free speech on campus is under threat
One in three students say free speech on campus is under threat and open debate is being affected
- A third of students say free speech is under attack on campus, a study has found
- This is a significant increase from 20 per cent who said so three years ago
- 41 per cent think academics teaching ‘offensive’ content should be fired
One third of students say free speech is ‘threatened’ on campus and many perceive a ‘chilling effect’ that discourages open debate, a study has found.
Researchers at King’s College London found 34 per cent now feel this way – up from 23 per cent in 2019.
In addition, 32 per cent of students feel academic freedom is threatened at their institution, compared with 20 per cent three years ago.
The findings come after a string of incidents in which speakers have been banned from campuses and academics bullied out of their jobs.
Last year, Kathleen Stock was hounded out of her role at Sussex University by activists because she questioned transgender ideology.
Incredibly, 41 per cent of students think academics who teach material that offends some students should be fired.
A study found that 32 per cent of students feel academic freedom is threatened at their institution. Pictured: Cambridge University
And 39 per cent think students’ unions should ban all speakers that may cause offence.
The study of more than 2,500 students by the Policy Institute at King’s also found there is a ‘growing perception’ of cases where freedom of expression has been violated.
A quarter of students now say they often hear of incidents at their university where free speech has been inhibited – compared with 12 per cent in 2019.
Almost half – 48 per cent – said controversial speakers were avoided at their university because it was difficult to get those events agreed – up from 37 per cent. And 49 per cent think universities are becoming less tolerant of a range of viewpoints.
The belief that ideological tolerance is declining in higher education is much more common among Conservative-voting students – 65 per cent – than Labour-voting – 37 per cent.
Kathleen Stock was hounded out of her role at Sussex University by activists last year because she questioned transgender ideology
But the study authors said perceptions of a ‘chilling effect’ on speech are increasing for both Right-wing and Left-wing voters.
Half of students now feel that those with Conservative views are reluctant to express them at university, compared with 37 per cent who said the same in 2019.
For Left-wingers, it was 36 per cent, compared to 14 per cent.
A total of 51 per cent of all students now think the climate at their university prevents people from saying things because they might offend others.
Self-censorship among students was particularly marked when it came to key controversial topics.
A third have held back their views on gender identity, while a quarter did so on the British Empire, because they feared what others might think of them.
A fifth held back due to concerns for their safety if they expressed their opinions openly. Director of the Policy Institute Professor Bobby Duffy said: ‘This major new study reveals two main patterns – firstly, that the large majority of students think their universities are protecting their freedom of speech, but secondly, that increasing minorities of students feel this is under threat and have heard of examples of free speech being inhibited.’
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