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Students show ‘shocking growth in support of censorship’, warns ministers | Student

Written by Javed Iqbal

Ministers have warned that students are showing “shocking growth in support of censorship”, after a study revealed that many were in favor of security and the avoidance of discrimination rather than unrestrained freedom of expression.

The study by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) showed that current students are more likely to support measures that restrict freedom of speech or expression on campus, and agree to remove offensive materials and memorials compared to their predecessors six years ago, as it last completed the survey.

Nick Hillman, Hepi’s director, said the study showed “a very clear pattern” of a majority of students who prefer interventions such as triggering course content warnings and speaker restrictions.

“In 2016, we found considerable ambivalence and confusion around free speech. Now it is clear that most students want greater restrictions imposed than they have tended to… in the past,” Hillman said.

“This may be primarily out of compassion, with the aim of protecting other students, but it may also reflect a lack of resilience among a cohort that has faced unprecedented challenges.”

But Michelle Donelan, Britain’s higher education minister, said the report “shows a shocking growth in support for censorship across a wide range of indicators”. “University leaders can no longer afford to stand aside, but must take active steps to combat these intolerant attitudes on campus, both to promote and protect freedom of speech,” she said.

“We can not allow our young people – the future of this great country – to feel that their freedom of speech is being suffocated and that they have to bow to the opinions of the majority on campus.”

Out of the 1,000 students surveyed, 61% said they wanted to “ensure that all students are protected from discrimination rather than allow unlimited freedom of speech”, compared to 37% in 2016. Only 17% of students supported “to ensure unlimited freedom of speech on campus, although offenses can occasionally be allowed ”- less than the 27% who agreed in 2016.

The results also revealed that many students felt that universities were “becoming less tolerant of a wide range of views”, with 38% agreeing and 27% disagreeing. But there was a clear division between men and women, with 51% of men agreeing with 28% of women.

The use of trigger warnings for unpleasant course content seems to be strongly endorsed by the students themselves, with 86% agreeing that they should be used sometimes or always, and only 14% are against them. In 2016, 32% of students were against their use.

Many more students now support religious or special interest groups being heard about campus events – 64% compared to 40% in 2016 – while 77% agreed that staff should receive mandatory cultural awareness training.

There was less but growing support for more direct restrictions, including 36% who agreed that academics should be fired for using material that “offends” students – more than double the 15% who agreed in 2016 .

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A growing minority also supported the removal of Holocaust denial or racist literature from university libraries, although more than a third of students wanted all material to remain.

Only 20% said they supported cancellation of events that were legal but made some students unhappy. About a third supported protests outside the event itself.

The survey revealed little interest in banning political parties or organizations from campus. Only 26% wanted a ban on the far-right English Defense League, while 19% wanted to ban the British National Party and 12% wanted to ban the British Communist Party.

There was little support for banning mainstream political parties, with 11% calling for a ban on the Conservatives, 5% a ban on Labor and a further 5% a ban on the Liberal Democrats.

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Javed Iqbal

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