Oxbridge student groups immune from free speech laws

Oxbridge students are immune from the legal restrictions imposed by the government’s Higher Education Freedom of Speech bill.  

This has led to mass frustration with Labour MPs protesting that this kind of treatment created a two-tier system across UK universities. 

The bill has been introduced to “make provision in relation to freedom of speech and academic freedom in higher education institutions and in students’ unions.” 

One of the objectives includes “securing that the use of premises, of the provider, is not denied to any individual or body on grounds of their individual beliefs, ideas or views”.

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, has said that imposing the regulations on Oxford and Cambridge student common rooms would be “unnecessary and overly bureaucratic”. 

Emma Hardy, the Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle has said that this notion seems “fairly ludicrous”. 

Last week the government accepted an amendment to include Oxbridge colleges under the bill. 

However, it remains that Oxbridge common rooms are exempt from being subjected to the proposed law – which exposes other universities and student representatives to legal action and punishment by the Office for Students.

Speaking to The Student, one University of Edinburgh student said: 

“The simple fact that law-makers would think that excluding Oxbridge students and staff from a law that directly affects all other universities is frankly offensive and once again highlights the idea that privilege is a major influencing factor in this country”. 

The Freedom of Speech Bill, by definition, allows individuals to voice their opinions without suffering adverse consequences, meaning that student unions would be subject to greater bureaucratic responsibilities, with the requirement to ensure that any speaker – regardless of their views – can express themselves safely. 

The bill will apply in England but not in Scotland. 

Commenting on the new bill,  another University of Edinburgh student told The Student: 

“The law is yet another attempt by the Conservatives to mask the real issues at universities with false solutions. As an English student, I say I can speak for the masses when I say that I would rather see at least a partial refund of my wasted tuition fees during covid and strikes”.

Image: The Guardian