Durham University ‘Chills Free Speech’ on Campus, Study Says


A University campus is normally a location that allows students and staff to engage in freedom of speech – without having policies or rules in place to limit expression. However, a recent report by Spiked Online has suggested that very few Universities in the United Kingdom actually actively promote freedom of speech, with many supposedly blocking free speech from their campus. In the report, Durham University was given an ‘amber’ ranking – denoting that the institution has ‘chilled free speech through intervention’.


A University campus should be somewhere where freedom of speech can prosper


The report was the latest edition of Spiked Online‘s annual free speech rankings, with 115 Universities being ranked. They examine any policies or actions that the University or Student Union has, and analyses the threat each poses to freedom of speech on campus. These can include specific speakers being banned, censorship and other policies. The organisation subsequently rank each University using a traffic-light system. Red denotes the institution is ‘hostile to free speech’. Amber suggests it ‘chills free speech’, with Green being the best. Click here for a full explanation.




The study suggests there is room for improvement at Durham. The study notes that the University and Students’ Union ‘collectively create a chilling environment for free speech’. The University maintained an amber ranking, due to how it places vague restrictions on ‘offensive’ material, cancelling a controversial event and banned an ‘offensive’ student social. The Union meanwhile is also at amber – it restricts ‘offensive’ sexual speech and holds compulsory sexual-consent classes. This marks a slight improvement for the University – having moved from a red rank in 2017. In 2015 and 2016, the University was ranked at amber.


There have been several high profile cases where speakers have been denied access to certain Universities in the United Kingdom.


Only seven of the 115 institutions were given a green rating. Among them were the University of Buckingham, Robert Gordon University, Trinity St. David, and the University of Winchester. No traditional, long-established University attained a green rating. Unfortunately, 63 Universities were given a ‘red’ ranking. 45 Universities attained an amber rating. It should be noted that some have disputed the accuracy and methodology of these findings. Yet by using a consistent model, these rankings can certainly be considered reliable to analyse.




So a mixed result for Durham University – with some positives and some negatives. A University is somewhere that freedom of speech should be encouraged and harnessed to help students debate and achieve their potential. It is therefore disappointing to see so many Universities criticised for their stance on freedom of speech. Yet creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable is equally important. Sometimes it seems these two elements cannot function alongside one another.





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