The Office of Students wants universities’ free speech codes to cover teaching and investigate academics on the state of free speech, an intervention Russell’s group urged the regulator to maintain “independence and the ability to make independent judgments.”
After the Office for Students published a report on free speech in English universities on December 15, the ruling group issued an unusually strong rebuke to the regulator, warning that “regulatory action must be taken on the basis of partial analysis or factual information.” Inspirational stories”.
The OSS has used its regulatory powers to politicize the issue of freedom of speech, and the regulator’s growing independence from government in the sector has come under wider concern.
The government’s Freedom of Speech Bill, currently going through Parliament, will give the regulator greater powers, including the creation of a director of freedom of speech and academic freedom within the OFS.
The OSS report sets out the regulatory and legal landscape of free speech and reiterates the watchdog’s “long-standing view that universities should embrace the broadest range of legal views”.
The brief says the OSS will not only test how comfortable students feel “expressing their views freely at a university or college” – the pre-announced move – but also to “confirm academics’ views on the electoral landscape”. Freedom of Speech in Higher Education”.
And as the OFS brief says it expects the “university free speech code” to “expand functions such as teaching and curriculum content” – it could threaten to undermine autonomy and academic freedom in universities.
The paper cited campus free speech reports from the right-wing Policy Exchange and reports from Civitas — though “contested” research on the area — as well as the 2016 Times The newspaper report on “The extent of content warnings and the removal of articles from university reading lists”.
The regulator has published its annual review, and chief executive Susan Lapworth said of freedom of speech: “We note repeated press reports of concerns about this issue, alongside the 60 or more notifications we have received on free speech issues. 2018”
Holly Chandler, head of policy at the Russell Group, a group of large research-intensive universities, said the regulator is “right to emphasize the importance of free speech and academic freedom, and university leaders are playing an active role in upholding these values.” campuses across the UK”.
She added: “Given the importance of speaking up, it is right that we put safeguards in place.” But regulatory action must be based on real facts, not partial analysis or sensational stories… As Ofco takes on free speech, its independence and ability to make independent judgments will be critical to ensuring students, staff and the sector. Be more confident in your approach.
Ms Lapworth told a press briefing that the OSS, as an independent watchdog, was “not interested in waging culture wars” or particularly supporting debate.
In her presentation, Ms Lapworth cited a Policy Exchange study which found that “only 54 per cent of academics said they would be comfortable sitting next to a known pro-licenser at lunch”.
Ms Lapworth said that was “amazing as a picture of people’s perspective”.
But the YouGov survey of policy exchanges is based on a “ridiculously small” sample of 484 civil servants and 336 retired academics.
Ms Lapworth told the briefing: “Some academics seem to decide that expressing legally held views may be more of a problem than it should be.
“I think that worries all of us,” she added.
The OSS “regularly” looks at “how universities are approaching these issues” and is contacted by “third parties who express their concerns”, Ms Lapworth continued.
“We can see patterns in the sector that cause us concern.”
The report also aims to help universities understand the nature of their free speech obligations under the law, including how to balance these with equality law obligations, Ms Lapworth said. She added that there were cases where universities were “closer to the obligations of the Equality Act than we thought the law would support”.
On the universities’ freedom of speech code, Ms Lapworth said these “generally relate to events and external speakers” and “sometimes go no further than that”.
These codes tend to “not engage with the curriculum and what happens in the classroom,” she continued.
But the OFS said it expects universities to “consider” how they communicate the “importance of free speech in the classroom” to students and staff.
The OSS is already recommending introducing free speech questions into the National Student Survey. An example question included in the consultation was: “During your study, how free did you feel to express your thoughts, opinions, and beliefs?”
Ms Lapworth said OFS thought it would be “beneficial” if academics were asked “to answer the same questions about their teaching and research skills whenever they choose”.