The UK’s first Free Speech University Rankings have been published by the self-proclaiming libertarian campaign group Spiked. Rankings were generated using data from 80% of UK universities and which was then ranked using a traffic light system. The policies and actions of both the university and the student union were analysed using an ‘absolute free speech’ criteria.
UEA was marked green, which represented a “hands off approach to free speech”. Although Spiked highlighted recent controversies, notably Union of UEA Students’ (UUEAS) boycott on The Sun, the group found overall both the university and UUEAS ranked favourably in terms of free speech. Essex University was found to be amongst the 5 worst universities, with organisers stating both the university and student union were actively preventing free speech.
Some may have been surprised at UEA’s green ranking given last semester’s petition against Norwich South’s local UKIP candidate, Steve Emmens. The candidate was due to speak at a debate organised by UEA’s Politics Society, however, the announcement of his presence was met by widespread anger among students. In the end the event was postponed and re-arranged.
However concerns have been raised over the ranking’s legitimacy by various institutions and campaign groups.
Some universities given a red ranking have spoken out saying the analysis is absurd and unjustified. Essex University pointed out it was given a red rating because of the student union’s promotion of anti-transphobia behaviour. Furthermore, the rankings ignore all policies which protect marginalised groups on campus. For example, an equality policy stating that homophobic, sexist and racist language will not be tolerated also attracts a red rating.
The balance between free speech and the safety of minority groups on campus is a difficult one, with many universities bearing contradicting policies. Meanwhile, Spiked have already begun work on next year’s rankings.