Richard Brabner, the Director of the UPP Foundation

As part of forthcoming work in partnership with the Higher Education Policy Institute (@HEPI_news), the @UPP_Foundation commissioned detailed polling from @PublicFirst_PF on public attitudes towards various elements of higher education. 

Given the current interest in free speech issues, we are releasing an excerpt of this polling ahead of the full results being published in a few weeks’ time.

Richard Brabner, the Director of the UPP Foundation, said:

‘These results show there are lessons for all sides in this debate. Free speech is popular. On a range of different contentious issues, the public – including 18-24 year olds and across political boundaries – support allowing controversial speakers on campus, even if they don’t agree with their views.

‘But equally, those pushing for a blanket protection for free speech should be under no illusion. The public does not approve of a libertarian free for all. When it comes to racist speakers and Holocaust deniers the public do not want them anywhere near our universities.’

In media discussions over the past week around the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, the Government have found themselves in some difficulty when faced with hypothetical situations and, specifically, on the right of Holocaust deniers to speak on campus. 

Matt Western MP, Labour's Shadow Universities Minister, said:

“The Conservatives are out of step with public opinion. 

“Ministers have created a row over freedom of speech which panders to those whose sole aim is to hurt and offend.

“The Government must explain why they are determined to press ahead with such unpopular and damaging plans.”

Michelle Donelan 100x100Interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme on Wednesday, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan MP was asked directly if it meant a Holocaust denier would be protected under these plans because it is not illegal in the UK.

Michelle said: “A lot of these things that we would be standing up for would be hugely offensive, would be hugely hurtful.”

This example illustrates some of the concerns which many in the higher education sector have about the forthcoming legislation. The Government has made no secret of its desire to campaign on issues of free speech and against ‘cancel culture’ broadly, including in higher education – and it is reasonable to believe they think this approach chimes with the public and particularly with Conservative voters.

The polling of over 2,000 adults shows that, in principle, the public is in favour of free speech. When asked, a majority of people say that people should be allowed to speak to students at university so long as their views are not illegal (55%). A more libertarian perspective, where nobody is prevented from speaking to students because of their opinions is less popular, with only around a quarter (24%) of the public supportive of this position. 

People’s views change dramatically when faced with different scenarios of controversial speakers. Our polling offered ten plausible scenarios of speakers (many – if not all – of which would be widely considered to be controversial).

When asked, based purely on that one piece of information whether in principle such a person ‘should be allowed to speak at a university’, ‘should not’, or ‘don’t know’, people’s opinions range from a net 56% in favour through to a net -49%. It is worth emphasising that between 13% and 22% of respondents answered ‘don’t know’ to the scenarios, showing either the complexity of the issue or an unwillingness to give an opinion. 

From the scenarios in our polling, the principle of allowing a Holocaust denier the right to speak at a university is one of the least supported, with a net percentage of -26% thinking they should be allowed to speak (29% ‘should’, 55% ‘should not’, 16% ‘don’t know’). So the Government’s clarifications at the end of the week that Holocaust deniers will ‘never, never, never’ be protected by the new legislation will be welcome news to much of the public.

The following charts look at people’s responses by different cross breaks. For each one, we’ve presented a net score – that is, those who said such a person should speak, less those who said a person should not speak. We have excluded ‘Don’t Knows’ from the charts for ease of visibility – but again, it is worth noting that on these, around 10% to 25% of people say don’t know.

There are some differences by (self-identified) political opinion. Conservative voters are more likely to be supportive of free speech for six of the issues, with Labour voters being more supportive of four of them. There are large differences between major party voters on the questions of promoting the Empire, campaigning for reduced immigration levels (although both of these record substantial positive NET scores from Labour and Conservative voters), trans issues and gay marriage.

We can explore this further using self-defined political positions without reference to party labels. Naturally, people’s self-identification on these scales will only be so accurate, however the results indicate that people’s perceptions of who should be able to speak are linked with the content of what the individual believes rather than simply a general commitment to ‘freedom of speech’.

Younger people are more in favour of letting some people speak than older ones (particularly around crime, and communism and Trump supporters). But they are less supportive than older people of someone’s right to speak if they promote a positive role of the empire, are against gay marriage or don’t believe trans women are women (although in each of those cases, there are net positives within all age groups).

When split by gender, we can see that men are consistently more pro free speech than women. Across all ten of the examples, men are more likely to want the speaker to speak (though, net, they are also against allowing Holocaust deniers, jihadi advocates and racists to speak).

There are limited patterns by socio economic status. AB voters tend to be more pro free speech than DE voters, but on every issue apart from communism, the differences are moderate.

When looking at the responses of graduates versus non-graduates, we find that graduates are more pro free speech than non-graduates on 8 of our 10 examples – with non-graduates being more supportive of speakers defending the Empire and (more narrowly) calling for restrictions on immigration.

Finally, returning to the issue that caused so much discussion last week, of Holocaust denial, we can see by bringing all crossbreaks together that it is one of a small number of examples where every group and subgroup has more support for banning such speakers than for letting them speak.

Overall, there are major lessons for both sides of the debate. It is clear that a blanket call in favour of free speech is likely to find popular support. But the real finding is that people will respond very differently depending on the circumstances of the speaker in question.

For those who may think any controversial issue is problematic and that discussion should be constrained, it is worth noting that self-identified Labour voters and liberals are net in favour of seven out of these 10 speakers giving remarks on campuses – including those that promote the Empire and those who oppose trans rights. Similarly, young voters (aged 18 to 24) are net in favour of seven scenarios (with Holocaust denial being one of three in which they – as with every other age cohort – express net support for a ban).

The risk for the Government and those pushing for further free speech protections is that – as has happened this week – specific examples can quickly find their coalition of supporters falling apart, with Conservative voters in 2019, those on the Right, and older people, all liable to be less supportive of someone’s right to speak at university depending on the nature of their views expressed.

Methodology: On behalf of the UPP Foundation and HEPI, Public First ran a poll of 2,011 adults in England between 4 and 7 February 2021. These results are part of a broader survey on public attitudes towards higher education. The UPP Foundation and HEPI plan on publishing a joint report analysing the full results of the polling in coming weeks but, given the announcement in the Queen’s Speech, the UPP Foundation and HEPI have published the results pertaining to free speech to help inform the current debate. All results, especially those showing sub-groups of respondents will be subject to a margin of error.

 

Universities to comply with free speech duties or face sanctions 

12th May 2021: Landmark Bill will require universities to promote freedom of speech on campus and legal duties will also be extended to students' unions

A historic bill introduced in Parliament (12 May) will strengthen the legal duties on higher education providers in England to protect freedom of speech on campuses up and down the country, for students, academics and visiting speakers.

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will bring in new measures that will require universities and colleges registered with the Office for Students to defend free speech and help stamp out unlawful ‘silencing’.

For the first time, these legal duties will also be extended to students’ unions, which, under the measures in the Bill, will have to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure lawful freedom of speech.

This delivers on a manifesto commitment to strengthen academic freedom and free speech in higher education and will help protect the reputation of our universities as centres of academic freedom. Universities, colleges and students’ unions that breach these duties may face sanctions, including fines.

Gavin Williamson 100x100Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

It is a basic human right to be able to express ourselves freely and take part in rigorous debate. Our legal system allows us to articulate views which others may disagree with as long as they don’t meet the threshold of hate speech or inciting violence. This must be defended, nowhere more so than within our world-renowned universities.

Holding universities to account on the importance of freedom of speech in higher education is a milestone moment in fulfilling our manifesto commitment, protecting the rights of students and academics, and countering the chilling effect of censorship on campus once and for all.

A new Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom will sit on the board of the Office for Students, with responsibility for investigations of breaches of the new freedom of speech duties, including a new complaints scheme for students, staff and visiting speakers who have suffered loss due to a breach.

The Bill comes in light of examples of a ‘chilling effect’ on students, staff and invited speakers feeling unable to speak out. In one incident, Bristol Middle East Forum was charged almost £500 in security costs to invite the Israeli Ambassador to speak at an event.

In another example, over one hundred academics signed a letter expressing public opposition to Professor Nigel Biggar’s research project ‘Ethics and Empire’, because he had said that British people should have ‘pride as well as shame’ in the Empire.

Registered higher education providers in England will have extended legal duties not only to take steps to secure freedom of speech and academic freedom, but also to promote these important values.

Michelle Donelan 100x100Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:

The values of freedom of speech and academic freedom are a huge part of what makes our higher education system so well respected around the world.

Which is why this government will tackle head on the growing chilling effect on our campuses which is silencing and censoring students, academics and visiting speakers.

This Bill will ensure universities not only protect free speech but promote it too. After all how can we expect society to progress or for opinions to modernise unless we can challenge the status quo?

The government has been clear throughout that it is important to distinguish between lawful, if offensive, views on one hand and unacceptable acts of abuse, intimidation, and violence on the other.

Higher education providers and students’ unions must ensure that they comply with their legal duties on discrimination and harassment as well as their legal duties to protect freedom of speech.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Advertisers

Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

Educating yourself in Prison: an inside job

Educating yourself in Prison: an inside job

FE News: The Future of Education News Channel had a status update on Twitter 2 days ago

RT @NCFE: ‘For as long as humans have worked, and whatever industry they may have worked in, success has always been predicated on having t…
View Original Tweet

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page