The Universities Minister is being urged to protect free speech on campus with pro-life organisations being blocked by students’ unions.
In a letter to Sam Gyimah MP, pro-life charity Life called for legislation to ensure students’ unions do not restrict freedom of expression.
Life had attempted to publicise its work at ten Freshers’ Fair events at the beginning of this term. It was rejected by six, some of which stated they were pro-abortion, while others cancelled the booking before the event.
Anne Scanlan, Life’s Director of Education, wrote to the Office for Students (OfS) to complain.
The OfS agreed that “organisations like Life should be allowed to publicise its work and services to students”, but said its jurisdiction extended to universities, not to student bodies.
Ms Scanlan highlighted this in her letter to the Universities Minister, expressing her concern that, in blocking Life’s attendance, some students’ unions were exploiting a loophole in the law.
She said: “The Education Act 1986 imposes a duty on higher education institutions to ensure freedom of expression on their premises.”
She continued: “Yet we have a situation where on university campuses, student unions are blatantly blocking freedom of expression and shutting out organisations they disagree with.
“These unions are potentially violating the Education Act with impunity simply because they are charities.”
Ms Scanlan branded the current state of affairs “unacceptable” and called for the law to be changed to give greater clarity.
“Universities should be places of rigorous and healthy debate and we therefore call on you to act to protect free speech and ensure organisations are not discriminated against on university campuses across the country”, she said.
Last week, the Junior Common Room at Oxford’s Lady Margaret Hall college voted to oppose a room booking by Christian Concern.
While college administrators said they could still uphold the booking, the charity would be required to pay extra for additional security, as it expected some staff and students to “express vehement disagreement” and engage in “sustained, very noticeable” protest.
Christian Concern said it was “perplexed as to how the historic Christian view of marriage, gender and sanctity of life would constitute a threat to students’ ‘physical and mental safety’.”