Oxbridge student groups to be exempt from free speech law | Higher Education



Oxbridge student groups are to be exempted from legal restrictions imposed by the government’s new free speech legislation, leading to accusations of “ridiculous” double standards by ministers of opposition MPs.

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, told MPs during a debate on the bill on higher education (freedom of expression) that imposing fees on common rooms for students at Oxford and Cambridge would be “unnecessary and too bureaucratic”.

Labor MPs protested that the special treatment given to Oxbridge was unwarranted and created a two tier system at universities.

Emma Hardy, Labor MP for Hull West and Hessle, said: ‘When we talk about unions and student organizations, we are not just talking about Oxford and Cambridge, we are also talking about all the little universities and colleges. .

“It seems pretty ludicrous to me that every aspect of the bill applies to the very small higher education offering at Hull College, but does not apply to the junior common room. It doesn’t seem fair or just.

Last week, the government accepted an amendment to include Oxbridge colleges in the bill before Parliament. But he ruled out Oxbridge’s student common rooms from being subject to the proposed law, which exposes universities and student representatives in England to legal action and regulatory penalties from the Students’ Office (OfS ).

The bill would mean that all higher education institutions registered with the OfS and their student unions must “ensure freedom of expression” for students, staff and lecturers, including by making venues available. groups or speakers regardless of their beliefs, and publish a code of practice for all. meetings and activities.

Common rooms are Oxbridge’s university-level equivalent of student unions, electing officers and often managing their own facilities, including bars and room reservations, with junior common rooms for undergraduates and undergraduates. Intermediate common rooms for postgraduate students.

Donelan told MPs: “As a bill introduces new avenues of redress for people who believe their local freedom of speech or academic freedom has been unduly restricted, it is essential that the right institutions are held responsible.

“Colleges fund their junior and intermediate common rooms. And to that extent, they can exercise great control over their activities, as these groups do not own or occupy their own premises, or operate the room reservation systems. And therefore impose these duties of freedom of expression on [them] seems utterly unnecessary and too bureaucratic.

Matt Western, the shadow university minister, said: “It is ridiculous that ministers say that students in Warwick or Hull should be subjected to unnecessary and cumbersome bureaucracy and that their student unions risk being sued, but not Oxford students. or Cambridge due solely to the makeup of the university.

“Labor in government introduced laws to protect every individual’s right to free speech. This unnecessary legislation is an attempt to deflect attention from the Conservatives’ failures to support students over the past year.

“The government’s exclusive approach risks creating a two-tier system in our universities.

Earlier this year, the Central Committee of the Common Room at Magdalen College in Oxford came under heavy criticism from politicians and the media for its vote to remove a portrait of the Queen from her chamber.

Gavin Williamson, then Secretary of Education, called the move “absurd,” resulting in front-page media coverage. Common room committee members subsequently received death threats and anti-Semitic abuse.



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