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New data on rejected speakers at English universities

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New data published today by the Office for Students (OfS) shows that during 2021-22, 31,545 speakers or events were approved to be held in English universities and colleges. The data shows that during that period 260 planned events did not go ahead. A further 475 went ahead with some form of mitigation.

The data is published alongside information drawn from the data universities and colleges return to the OfS as part of their compliance with the Prevent duty.

The figures show an increase in the number of events approved, as well as the number of speakers and events not approved compared to 2020-21, when 19,405 events went ahead and 195 did not. The proportion of events that did not go ahead is just below one per cent. During 2020-21 England was subject to various restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, which had been largely removed for the 2021-22 reporting period. 

Commenting on the data, David Smy, Director of Monitoring and Intervention at the OfS, said:

‘While this data suggests that the overwhelming majority of events with external speakers went ahead as planned – which is welcome – the data may not provide the full picture. The data does not capture decisions not to invite speakers in the first place or voluntary withdrawal of requests for approval. We recognise that this could be masking cases where event organisers or speakers feel unable to proceed with the event they had planned.

‘As a result of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 the OfS will be taking on new powers, and the universities and colleges we regulate will have additional responsibilities to take steps to protect and promote freedom of speech within the law. We have a range of powers to intervene if we identify concerns that universities and colleges are rejecting invited speakers who wish to express lawful views, even if those views are challenging or seen as offensive by some.’

The report also provides data on the management of individual radicalisation cases by universities and colleges as part of their duty under Prevent. It shows that 55 cases were subject to formal referral to external Prevent agencies. Universities and colleges were asked to identify any underpinning ideology for each case. Of the 55 referrals, 15 were identified as potential Islamist radicalisation and 10 as potential extreme right-wing radicalisation.

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