The three highest-ranked U.K. universities—the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and the Imperial College of London—are among the most restrictive for free speech, according to a new report from the British think tank Civitas.
The report, based on a three-year study examining multiple policies and actions of 137 registered U.K. universities, found that 35% of the universities studied “are performing badly on free speech.”
Civitas researchers assessed each university on 22 variables, including to what degree student societies discourage free speech, as well as how certain speech codes and harassment policies restrict open debate. The number of restrictions imposed by the schools was then collated and aggregated into an overall censorship score for each university.
Those that scored 301 or more were placed in the “Most Restrictive” category. Respectively, those that scored between 151 and 300 fell into the “Moderately Restrictive” category, and those universities that were graded between 1 and 150 were put in the “Most Friendly” category.
Unlike the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge and the Imperial College of London, which found themselves in the “Most Restrictive” classification, The University of Buckingham, Manchester Metropolitan University and London Business School were ranked “Most Friendly” when it comes to free speech policies and actions.
In fact, in July 2019, the University of Buckingham set up a Free Speech Society. James Oliver, the founder of the society, said the group’s goal is to “re-platform the no-platformed.”
Civitas warned that “cancel culture” is the culprit for many free speech violations.
An environment that rejects opinions that do not precisely conform to what is ‘fashionable’ now inhabits modern U.K. university culture, Civitas researchers argued. As a result, those that seek to express dissenting views have found themselves shunned, removed or even expelled.
And while the majority of the report focused on the role that U.K. universities play in campus censorship, Civitas also addressed government’s failure to uphold free speech.
“Government and parliament cannot mourn the loss of a liberty which it has itself authorized through legislation,” Civitas said.
Civitas hopes that, through the study, U.K. universities will be able to review their approaches to free speech and “help academics, students and the public to observe the scale of censorship and differences in the treatment of free speech across U.K. academia.”
“[Because] to reject free speech on campus is to reject the essence of learning and education, of freedom of conscience, and of the diversity of thought which exists in modern society.”
Above: The University of Oxford campus in Oxfordshire, England.