The University of Birmingham is ‘hostile’ towards free speech on campus, according to a recent report by Spiked Online. The report has cast doubt over the widespread belief 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 the University of Birmingham.
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 the University of Birmingham a red rank. The report states that the University and Guild of Students ‘collectively create an environment that is hostile to free speech’. The University is based at amber, due to how it places restrictions on ‘offensive’ language and literature. However, the Guild finds itself rated at red. This is because it holds a No Platform policy – which subsequentl bans far-right and racist speakers, and operates an outright ban on ‘sexist’ speech and on certain newspapers. This averages out as a red grade, and is the fourth successive year that the University has been ranked in this way.
The overall conclusions state that just seven of the 115 institutions that were analysed are rated at green. 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, while the vast majority of London-based institutions were ranked as red. 63 Universities in total 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.
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So a disappointing result for the University of Birmingham – with the report suggesting the institution has a poor attitude towards freedom of speech. A University is somewhere that freedom of speech should be encouraged and harnessed to help students debate and achieve their potential. Yet it is equally important to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable. Sometimes it seems these two elements cannot function alongside one another, which is disappointing.