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Censorship On UK University Campuses Has Been Declared ‘An Epidemic’

For the second year running, a survey has been carried out by Spiked magazine which looks into the state of free speech on university campuses in the UK. The Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) ranks 115 British universities according to their policies and conduct towards students’ free speech and expression.

The results have revealed that 90% of the universities surveyed censor their students’ speech.

Using a traffic-light system, each university and students’ union has been assessed and provided with an average ranking by the FSUR in accordance with their approach to free speech on campus. Policies concerning bullying, equal opportunities and no platforming were taken into account, as well as bans on controversial speakers or newspapers and expulsions on the grounds of controversial views or statements

Only 12 out of the 115 universities received a ‘Green’ ranking to acknowledge that they place no restrictions on free speech and expression. 

Screenshot / via spiked-online.com

Screenshot / via spiked-online.com

The remaining 103 universities, 23 of which are Russell Group institutions, were all ranked either ‘Amber’ to signify that some restrictions and guidance prohibit free speech, or ‘Red’ to signify complete hostility towards free speech and expression.

Universities such as Leeds, Edinburgh and LSE are among those flagged as the most restrictive, while Southampton, Canterbury and Glasgow Caledonian make up part of the twelve institutions given the green light for their approach to freedom of speech.

Screenshot / via spiked-online.com

Screenshot / via spiked-online.com

Compared with the results from the 2015 survey, this reveals a 10% increase in what Spiked calls censorship on campuses across UK universities and has led coordinator of the survey Tom Slater to declare it ‘an epidemic’. 

A statement on the FSUR website reads: “There are numerous restrictions placed on speech by UK law. We have not marked down any institution for attempting to restrict illegal speech. It is when institutions overstep that line – through enacting extra-legal censorship or expanding legal definitions unnecessarily – that they are given a negative assessment.”

Campus censorship has made the news several times over the last few years. In 2013 Swansea University Students’ Union banned the Swansea Student Pole Fitness Society after claiming it was “inextricably linked to the multi-million-pound sex industry.” More recently, members of University of East Anglia’s Students’ Union banned a restaurant from handing out sombreros on campus on the grounds that the marketing stunt was “racist”.

In spite of their findings, the FSUR are confident that the demand for fairer censorship across universities is moving in the right direction.

In a statement, the coordintor said: “Here’s hoping the FSUR can give students the weight of evidence they need to fight back. And here’s hoping university authorities and academics, who have so long ignored the threat facing the academy, take a stand of their own.”