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UCU House of Lords briefing on academic freedom

UCU briefing on the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill produced ahead of the House of Lords second reading on Tuesday 28 June 2022.

The Higher Education (Freedom Of Speech) Bill, which has been widely criticised by academics and human rights groups, will do nothing to address the real threats to academic freedom, which are widely understood to be the use of precarious employment practices that prevent staff from researching and working freely, a lack of staff representation in university governance, and a management culture which dictates the research academics undertake.

This bill has been introduced on the pretext that there is a crisis of free speech and academic freedom on campus caused by intolerant students and staff, and the resultant rise of so-called 'cancel culture'. There is no real evidence for this.

UCU does believe, however, that there are significant threats to both academic freedom and free speech in higher education, but they come from the government and university managers.

Freedom from state interference and government control are crucial dimensions of academic freedom and freedom of speech. We believe that the bill represents another case of heavy-handed ministerial interference in the education system, which will further imperil the freedoms it purports to protect.