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The state of free speech in UK universities: what students and the public think

Higher education Academic freedom Universities Freedom of speech Public opinion United Kingdom

This research, by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, is based on two new representative surveys of UK university students, amounting to almost 2,500 polled, as well as several representative surveys of the general public, carried out to identify where views on these issues diverge between the two groups. The study was designed to allow comparisons with a previous survey carried out in 2019, to reveal trends in attitudes and perceptions since then.

Key findings:

  • There is strong agreement among students that free speech, robust debate and academic freedom are protected in their universities.
  • But at the same time, growing minorities of students feel freedoms are under threat in their institutions.
  • Perceptions of a 'chilling effect' on speech are increasing – for both conservative and left-wing views.
  • Students and the public have different views on how to manage freedom of expression issues.
  • There is very little awareness of the Free Speech Bill – but a majority say they support it when it’s explained to them, even if this will be a lightly held view.
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