Universities shouldn’t suppress ‘uncomfortable ideas’

A University regulator has said that ‘uncomfortable ideas’ should not be suppressed on UK campuses.

Sir Michael Barber, head of the Office for Students, noted that there is a tendency for universities to protect students from what are deemed as “unpopular” or “minority” ideas.

“Feeling uncomfortable is an essential ingredient of learning and the pursuit of truth” he said.

Free speech

At a higher education conference last week, Sir Michael addressed free speech in universities.

He told leaders at the conference that universities which have a rule that ‘no student can offend anyone on university property’ are “absurd”.

“There is a tendency currently to suggest that students should be protected from ideas that may make them feel uncomfortable”, he said.

“Free speech is one of the most precious freedoms ever established, and universities above all should be places where it is cherished.”


Oxford University’s LGBTQ group launched a campaign to prevent Dame Jenni Murray from addressing the student History Society about British women in history and society.

They accused the Women’s Hour presenter of making “transphobic comments” in a 2017 newspaper article.

The group claimed: “Enabling such a transphobic speaker to come to Oxford and disseminate her views shows a considerable disregard for the welfare and existence of trans students”.

Ross Clark, writing for the Daily Express said: “Now, any speaker who differs from the grim orthodoxy of Left-wing student politics seems to attract a protest”.


Sir Michael has called upon universities to maintain standards of free speech and to create an atmosphere where students are exposed to diverse views, argument and debate in a classroom.

He said that: “The OfS will be an unashamed champion of free speech.

“If we ever decide to intervene on this subject, it will only be to extend and never to restrict freedom of speech.”

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