Academic freedom is the lifeblood of universities. It is only by engaging in free inquiry and open discussion that students and academics are able to develop different ideas, learn how to cope with robust challenge, decide which ones can withstand scrutiny, and advance the frontiers of knowledge. Without academic freedom, universities become repositories of stale orthodoxies rather than engines of invention.
Over the past 15 years or so, free speech has become more and more imperilled at universities across the Anglosphere. Students and academics who challenge received ideas, particularly in areas like climate change, gender identity and colonialism, are finding themselves targeted for cancellation by outrage mobs. The largest recent study of free speech in British universities (by the University and College Union) reports 35.5% of academics self-censoring (compared to 19.1% in the EU). As the authors wrote: “Self-censorship at this level appears to make a mockery of any pretence by universities of being paragons of free speech and that of being advocates of unhindered discourse in the pursuit of knowledge and academic freedom.”
Self-censorship is a particular problem for members of universities with conservative views. A recent report by Policy Exchange shows that self-censorship in British academia is over twice as high among conservatives in the social sciences and humanities (50%) than among those with left-wing views (23%), a pattern repeated in Canada and the United States.
If Britain’s universities are to preserve their world class reputation – four are currently in the QS World University Rankings for 2022 – we need to urgently restore the tradition of free inquiry and open debate, with students and academics able to speak their minds without fear of punishment.
At the Free Speech Union, we understand the challenges you might face and are committed to being by your side throughout. If you want to speak up about an issue that matters to you, you should be free to do so without fear of being penalised. We have helped over 2,000 people who found themselves in trouble merely for expressing a controversial opinion or for exercising their lawful right to free speech, whether at college or university, in the workplace or on social media.
If you’re looking for information and guidance, or are in need immediate help, know that our team of experts are here to provide assistance, resources, and unwavering support. You’re not alone; we’re in this together.