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LONDON – 10 MAY 2016
The government has repeatedly highlighted the threat posed by extremists seeking to use the UK’s university campuses to spread their views, and has rightly made ensuring these speakers face robust challenge a priority.
As a result, The Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE) now requires universities in England to have procedures in place for managing the risks around external speakers and events on campus, as well as institution-branded events taking place off campus.
With this in mind, Student Rights is releasing a new briefing, ‘A Model External Speaker Policy: Assessing the Risks Posed by External Speakers On-campus’, which provides institutions with advice while highlighting some of the alarming challenges such policies face.
The policy seeks to provide a structure which gives a high level of oversight from staff and student union officials to mitigate the risk associated with external speakers while allowing as many events as possible to go ahead.
· A clear outline of all relevant legislation and regulation affecting the invitation of speakers onto campuses;
· Consistent risk assessment procedures allowing universities to evaluate an invited speaker’s views and organisational affiliations;
· Graded recommendations on how to mitigate the risk posed by a range of extreme speakers, including ensuring impartial moderators, balanced platforms and recorded events;
The briefing also highlights a number of challenges faced by universities, with the most serious being an apparent attempt to conceal the controversial nature of speakers by students at Queen Mary University, and clear equivocation of whether Hamas is a terrorist organisation from student union staff at the university.
Student Rights’ Director, Rupert Sutton, said:
“Ensuring that the risks posed by an external speaker are successfully mitigated while maintaining freedom of expression for visiting speakers presents universities with a unique challenge, and this policy seeks to provide a framework for institutions to address these concerns.
This advice aims to enable universities to demonstrate to improve the number of genuine debates taking place on campus, and to ensure that compliance with the Prevent duty does not have a detrimental effect on freedom of expression.
We were alarmed to see students hiding the nature of invited speakers and those assessing risk equivocating on the nature of a proscribed terrorist organisation, and hope universities will take our advice on dealing with these issues into account when implementing their own speaker polices.”