Study: More students say free speech is threatened at their university

UK students are increasingly concerned that free speech is at risk in their universities.

Research by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, based on multiple surveys, found that although 65 per cent of students still say free speech and robust debate are “well protected” in their university, an increasing number voiced issues.

When asked how threatened free speech is in their university, one-in-three (34 per cent) said it is “very” or “fairly threatened”, up from 23 per cent in 2019.

‘Under threat’

Almost half of students (49 per cent) think universities “are becoming less tolerant of a wide range of viewpoints”, as 25 per cent said they have “very” or “fairly often” heard of incidents where free speech has been “inhibited” in their university, compared to 12 per cent in 2019.

More than half (51 per cent) agreed that their institution’s climate prevents people from voicing their beliefs for fear of offending others, while 34 per cent admitted to personally withholding their opinion on the topic of ‘gender identity’.

Professor Bobby Duffy, Director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, commented that “the large majority of university students think their universities are protecting their freedom of speech, but secondly, that increasing minorities of students feel this is under threat and have heard of examples of free speech being inhibited.

“We can’t divorce these trends in universities from changes in wider society, where we’ve seen increasing focus on ‘culture war’ issues, which will influence student opinions.”


Earlier this year, the then Higher Education Minister Andrea Jenkyns MP warned against on campus censorship after a reported increase in speakers and events being cancelled.

Office for Students data highlighted that 193 requests to host events or speakers were turned down by higher education institutions in 2020-21, more than double the number of the previous year.

Under the Government’s Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, institutions in England could face fines if they fail in their new legal duties to protect and promote free speech.

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