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One in three students say free speech on campus is under threat and open debate is affected


One in three students say free speech on campus is under threat and open debate is affected

  • A third of students say free speech is under attack on campus, study finds
  • This is a significant increase from the 20% who said so three years ago.
  • 41% think academics who teach “offensive” content should be fired

A third of students say free speech is ‘under threat’ on campus and many perceive a ‘chilling effect’ that discourages open debate, a study has found.

Researchers from King’s College London found that 34% now feel this way, up from 23% in 2019.

In addition, 32% of students believe that academic freedom is threatened in their institution, compared to 20% three years ago.

The findings come after a series of incidents in which lecturers were banned from campuses and academics were intimidated.

Last year, Kathleen Stock was ousted from her role at the University of Sussex by activists because she questioned transgender ideology.

Incredibly, 41% of students believe that academics who teach subjects that offend some students should be fired.

A study found that 32% of students feel that academic freedom is under threat at their institution. Pictured: University of Cambridge

And 39% think student unions should ban all speakers that may offend.

King’s Policy Institute’s study of more than 2,500 students also found there is a ‘growing perception’ of instances where free speech has been violated.

A quarter of students now say they often hear about incidents at their university where free speech has been curtailed, up from 12% in 2019.

Almost half – 48% – said controversial speakers were avoided at their university because it was difficult to sell these events – compared to 37%. And 49% think universities are becoming less tolerant of a range of viewpoints.

The belief that ideological tolerance is declining in higher education is far more widespread among students voting Conservative – 65% – than among those voting Labor – 37%.

Kathleen Stock was ousted from her role at the University of Sussex by activists last year because she questioned transgender ideology

Kathleen Stock was ousted from her role at the University of Sussex by activists last year because she questioned transgender ideology

But the study’s authors said the perception of a “chilling effect” on speech increased for voters on both the right and the left.

Half of students now believe those with conservative views are hesitant to express them at university, up from 37% who said the same in 2019.

For leftists, it was 36%, compared to 14%.

A total of 51% of all students now believe that the climate at their university prevents people from saying things because they might offend others.

Self-censorship among students was particularly marked when it came to key controversial topics.

A third held back their opinion on gender identity, while a quarter did so on the British Empire, as they feared what others might think of them.

A fifth held back fearing for their safety if they expressed their opinion openly. Policy Institute director Professor Bobby Duffy said: “This major new study reveals two main trends – firstly, that the vast majority of students believe their universities protect their freedom of expression, but secondly, that growing minorities students believe it is under threat and I have heard of examples of interference with freedom of expression.

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