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Academic freedom in the UK

Aug 3, 2020

Protecting viewpoint diversity

Britain’s universities are world-leading. Yet there is growing concern that academic freedom in these institutions is being undermined in a way that departs from the liberal traditions and democratic norms of British society. This paper uses one of the largest representative samples of UK- based academics carried out in recent years to explore the concern that strongly-held political attitudes are restricting the freedom of those who disagree to research and teach on contested subjects. The report sets out what might be done, in the form of legislation—specifically an Academic Freedom Bill—and other measures to ensure that a) universities support intellectual dissent, which drives progress and innovation and b) all lawful speech is protected on campus.

The self-censorship going on among academics revealed by Policy Exchange’s research is real cause for concern. Universities should not only welcome debate and dissent from established ways of thinking – they should actively encourage it, because that’s how we achieve progress and change. If universities were onlyto allow the regurgitation of the received wisdom, what would be the point of them?

Rt Hon Ruth Kelly

Former Labour Education Secretary

This is a timely and important study. It examines a real problem with impressive objectivity and none of the partisan rhetoric that we have learned toassociate with the issue of academic freedom.

Lord Sumption

Former Supreme Court Justice

A thoughtful and revealing survey, and deeply disturbing. The very purpose of higher education is to encourage our brightest minds to expand the bounds ofhuman understanding. Dismayingly, it seems that many academics are being guided more by prejudice than by curiosity.

Trevor Phillips

Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange

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