New guidance has been published for students and universities setting out the legal rights and obligations to help protect free speech on campuses.
In recent years, Christian and pro-life groups have been forced off campus because of their religious and ethical beliefs. And well-known feminists like Germaine Greer have been banned from giving lectures to students because of her views on transgender people.
But now new guidance produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission says student unions and universities must do more to protect free speech.
David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: ‘The free expression and exchange of different views without persecution or interference goes straight to the heart of our democracy and is a vital part of higher education.
‘Holding open, challenging debates rather than silencing the views of those we don’t agree with helps to build tolerance and address prejudice and discrimination.
‘Our guidance makes clear that freedom of speech in higher education should be upheld at every opportunity and should only be limited where there are genuine safety concerns or it constitutes unlawful behaviour’.
Trevor Phillips, the former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, said that universities have – in recent years – stifled free speech by following the ‘rule of the mob’.
He said, ‘What you are really talking about is the rule of the mob – that has come to campuses. I find all of those things incredibly threatening’.
Mr Phillips said responsibility did not lie solely with students but with those who ran the academic establishments.