Free speech censored at four of five universities, with Essex and UWE among most restrictive

Four of every five universities restrict free speech, a report by political website Spiked has revealed.

The report analysed 115 UK universities and student unions (SUs) on their policies on freedom of speech and ranked them from most to least tolerant.

Spiked ranked institutions according to a red, amber and green light code. Of the 80 per cent of universities which restrict free speech, 41 per cent explicitly ban certain schools of thought from disseminating information and are deemed ‘red’. The remaining 39 per cent restrict offensive or insulting speech and are ranked as ‘amber’. The other 20 per cent place no restrictions on free speech and come in under the ‘green’ banner.

The most popular bans were Page 3, banned by 26 institutions; the pop song Blurred Lines, banned by 21; ‘unruly’ sports teams, banned by eight, and pro life and boycott Israel groups, with four bans each.  

SUs were found to be more restrictive than universities; 51 per cent explicitly banned particular ideas compared to just 9.5 per cent of universities. Just over one third (37 per cent) of SUs hold No Platform policies, banning far-right and extremist speakers from campuses.

Spiked also drew attention to the new ‘Safe Space’ policy, which restrict any speech which could potentially create a fractious environment. SUs which have enacted this policy include those of the universities of Bristol and Edinburgh, with the latter enacting its policy in 2012 in response to students’ ‘severe distress’ at the Israeli’s ambassador’s visit to campus and consequent protests which intimidated others and led to the ambassador’s talk being called off.

Most tolerant universities, as ranked by Spiked

Trinity St David

Winchester

Buckingham

London Metropolitan

Liverpool Hope

Sunderland

Southampton Solent

Least tolerant universities, as ranked by Spiked

Essex

Bath Spa

Northampton

Portsmouth

Unversity of the West of England