The University of Bristol Limits Free Speech on Campus, Study Says


The University of Bristol have ‘chilled free speech through intervention’ on their campus, according to a recent report by Spiked Online. The recent report has cast doubt over the notion that a University campus is a location which allows students and staff to engage in free speech. The report suggests very few Universities in the United Kingdom actually actively promote freedom of speech on campus. Some, they suggest, actively block freedom of speech. In this article, we take a look at the report on Bristol.


The recent report has questioned the extent to which freedom of speech is honoured at Universities in the United Kingdom


The report was the 2018 edition of Spiked Online‘s annual free speech rankings, with 115 Universities being ranked. The report examined any policies or actions that a University or Student Union employs, 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 suggesting the University has a ‘hands-off approach’ to free speech. Click here for a full explanation.




The study gives Bristol an amber rank. The study concludes that the University and Students’ Union ‘collectively create a chilling environment for free speech’. The University was awarded an amber rank – due to how it places restrictions on ‘provocative’ and ‘offensive’ speech. The Union meanwhile is also at amber – due to how it restricts ‘unwelcoming’ and ‘judgemental’ speech, and because it has banned a ‘chav-themed’ society social. This does mark a slight improvement for Bristol however – who have been ranked at red for the past three years.


There have been a range of free speech-related controversies at Universities in recent years


Looking at the overall conclusions – surprisingly only seven of the 115 institutions analysed 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. 63 Universities were given a red ranking, with 45 Universities attaining an amber rating. It should be noted that some have disputed the accuracy and methodology of the report. Yet by using a consistent model, these rankings can certainly be considered reliable to analyse.




So a mixed result for the University of Bristol – with the report highlighting some positives, yet also 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. On many occasions, there is a strong argument to suggest these policies have been positive.





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