London, England, May 14, 2021 / 18:01 pm
A proposed law in the UK aiming to bolster the protection of free speech could impose fines on universities if they fail to protect freedom of speech for students, staff, and visiting speakers.
Among the bill’s provisions is one that would allow visiting speakers, academics, and students to seek compensation if they suffer loss because their free speech rights are not protected, the BBC reported.
The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech Bill), proposed May 11, also seeks to protect the “academic freedom” of university staff, so that they will not be at risk of being fired for putting forth controversial ideas.
The bill would also apply to student unions in addition to universities.
The Office for Students, the UK government’s watchdog on universities, would have the power to impose fines on universities and student unions that violate the new freedom of speech rules. The bill would also mandate the appointment of a “free speech champion” to the Office for Students.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who introduced the bill, told the BBC that "to be able to express ourselves freely and take part in rigorous debate" is a basic human right.
"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,” he said.
The bill is in the process of a second reading in the House of Commons before moving to the committee stage.