Freedom of speech is considered one of the crucial aspects of any democratic society. There are many debates around this issue, as well as different positions supported and opposed. On the one hand, this right was supported by the representatives of the European Convention on Human Rights and incorporated into the domestic law under Article 10.1 According to the existing and approved law, everyone has the right “to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers”.2 On the other hand, many current researchers and writers admit that free speech in universities is under threat3 or even officially dead in the United Kingdom.4 Although there are certain restrictions on the idea to speak freely because of the intention to protect society and avoid harassment, freedom of speech cannot be ignored in UK universities. This report will develop a recommendation for modern UK students to develop free debates and peaceful demonstrations in specific zones and prove that young minds have to be open, and their ideas may be challenged.
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Today, it is not enough for a real-world audience to gather the material, use peer-reviewed sources, and share the opinions of experts in the chosen field. It is effective to invite people to participate in research, give their personal (usually subjective) opinions, and analyze their answers and ideas in terms of a wider context. Personal experience and engagement are a part of qualitative research with the help of which an understanding of a phenomenon is possible.5 Even though freedom of speech is promoted by UK law, students and teachers can experience certain challenges in sharing their points of view in public. Therefore, the decision to communicate directly with students was made. Several prestigious universities located in England were chosen, including the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, the University of Sheffield, and Middlesex University in London. The participants were randomly found via Facebook, and the researcher sent the same invitation letter with clear explanations of the idea of the inquiry and their role in it. In total, 250 requests were sent, and 45 positive answers were obtained.
At the final preparation stage, 20 participants (ten males and ten females) were chosen as they met the inclusion (being a student, participating in academic activities, speaking English, and being a native citizen) and exclusion (being a freshman and being an international student) criteria. As soon as informed consent was introduced to and signed by every participant, a primary data collection process began. Communication was organized via Skype at a time that was convenient for the participants.6 All the participants were aware that this inquiry was recorded for further analysis of information. Five open-ended questions about freedom of speech in their universities were created and posed. When all the interviews were conducted, online communication was transcribed, a thematic analysis of data was organized by a researcher and supported by an extensive literature review. In this report, the recommendation to support freedom of speech in UK universities was based on the answers and experiences of students and recent news and investigations of local writers and researchers.
Regardless of their gender, race, or age, people are free to speak, follow their interests, and meet their needs. However, there are also a number of rules and norms that should be followed in order to keep order and respect each other. It is important for society to identify and understand the line between freedom of speech and phrases or comments that may offend, frustrate, or even kill.7 According to Edgson, the lack of freedom of speech may result in a variety of outcomes, and the spread of extremism on campus.89 In some UK universities, strong opinions are tolerated, but sometimes, it is hard to control people and established the required behavioral norms. Communication with students proved that the modern system of education has a number of benefits, but the support of free speech is not on the list.
Each country and university have their own unique rules on how public speeches should be organized, and to what extent the expression can be supported. The United States is known as one of the most tolerated and democratic countries, while Senegal is less supportive of free expression.10 The United Kingdom is on the list of the ten most supportive countries, but the situation differs on campus. Students are not allowed to develop discussions on various topics without being approved and supported by the head of the university. For example, the professor of the University of Sheffield explained that freedom of speech might be not enough, but it has to be because if a university is not able to give students a fair opportunity to be heard, it could be defined as a poor place for learning.11 Students must share their opinions and realize what it means to live in truth.
At the same time, a university is a place where diverse people have to live together for some period of time. It is hard to make sure that the needs and interests of each student are met on campus, and common codes of conduct and rules are created.12 UK universities develop specific statements and visions to explain how they support the idea of free expression and speech. In addition, the university government continues introducing new codes of conduct and leaves the right for the University to cancel or impose conditions on meetings, events, and debates. There is no definite position about freedom of speech in universities, and students are still not able to understand if they are free to talk about what they want or stay dependent on someone else.
Today, many conferences and debates aim to discuss the phenomenon known as freedom of speech. Some philosophers admit that this concept is under siege in UK universities, and some researchers consider heresy as a central issue in understanding a free speech problem.13 The need to come to one conclusion cannot be ignored in this inquiry, and the opinions of students should help to clarify the situation, using vivid examples. In his discussion, Jonathan Grant introduces two interrelated problems in UK universities. First, it is the intention to translate freedom of speech principles to workable procedures through laws.14Some laws protect freedom of expression, and some laws aim at limiting these rights, and the government does not find it necessary to remove restrictions even if university ministers or other leaders ask for help. UK legislation recognizes the necessity to promote freedom of speech on campus, but it has to be secured for students and employees, which means that freedom actually exists within only some categories of actions.15 Students, as well as employees, do not have guarantees that all their words and thoughts are legal.
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There is a need for universities to give one definite question if students are free to speak and discuss all themes from their perspectives or not. There are many provocative and peaceful methods to achieve the desired goal and clarify the situation. In this report, the task is to introduce and prove a solution to the problem and contribute to the freedom of expression and freedom of speech discussions with minimum harm to participants.
The best solution to the problem of freedom of speech in UK universities is to develop a new regulation and reject the possibility to cancel or control meetings or follow specific codes with restrictions. However, this idea is naïve and unreal regarding the current situation in the country and the number of international students on the UK campus. Therefore, it is expected to think about some other alternatives in terms of which the solution can be offered. For example, in the United States, where a loyal attitude towards free speech is promoted, several solutions were offered, including the creation of free speech zones, the challenge of a hateful speech with another speech, the introduction of an alternative speech, and respect for students and academic rights.16 All these ideas have solid backgrounds and clear explanations of why and how they can be implemented.
In the case of UK universities, the idea to create free speech zones is probably the most effective and appropriate solution. It does not contradict the legal aspect of the United Kingdom and proves the worth of human rights defined by the European Convention on Human Rights. It is credible and reliable as it has all the SMART characteristics. Specific free zones are measured in numbers per university and achieved through the cooperation of students and the administration to solve the problem of freedom of speech with the next year.
All students, faculty employees, and other campus visitors have free access to the zones where freedom of speech is allowed. There should be special instructions and explanations for the participants to avoid misunderstandings and judgments. People are free to develop their own opinions and discussions regardless of their religion, gender, race, social status, or age. At the same time, they agree to listen to each other and never hate or accuse speakers. Such a solution helps to reduce the problem and provide students with a possibility to speak freely. It is a chance to check how honest and open relationships can encourage students and increase their desire to study. The existing diversity of students in UK universities may be a serious threat to the country because the administration, as well as the government, is not able to control all the people in universities. A free speech zone is an additional source of information that may be biased, subjective, or prejudiced. Its goal is not to analyze human behavior but make people speak and pay attention to the details around it.
The size and the number of zones depend on a university and its population. To avoid new contradictions, there should not be administrators or controllers. This zone has its boundaries, and as soon as a student joins it, he or she is not allowed to break the law and demonstrate deviant behavior. His true intention is to share information, ask questions, and be free in mind and words. Expected results include the decrease in dissatisfied students and student turnover, the increase of honest and effective discussions, and the reduction of hidden conflicts and the causes of extremism on campus.
Taking action to solve the problem is a crucial step in this discussion. The target audience has to be legally and emotionally prepared to approve this choice and explain the outcomes. As soon as the extracts from the UK Constitution, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the codes of local universities are obtained, particular actions are required. To create zones where freedom of speech and expression are promoted with no restriction, a number of steps have to be taken immediately:
- The description of the idea in a written and properly organized way;
- Communication with campus citizens in order to gather opinions and their attitudes towards this idea;
- The choice of the place where free zones can be arranged;
- Approval from university administration with informed consent and liabilities of participants being clearly explained;
- Effective advertisement of such free zones so that every student or academic employee can get a definite idea about the offered solution.
In general, freedom of speech in UK universities remains an open topic for discussion among students. The UK law has specific regulations about how society should behave, talk, and live, following the already defined order and norms. Although multiple freedoms are promoted, campus citizens are still not confident in their rights and have to deal with restrictions and measurements. The creation of free speech zones is a solution for UK universities. Its effectiveness is explained by no necessity to change current codes of conduct and universities’ visions and missions. A new perspective is a chance to help students develop their independent critical thinking, decision-making, and communication without boundaries.
Burnett, K., ‘Freedom of Speech Is not Enough’, The University of Sheffield News.
Council of Europe, European Convention on Human Rights, 2013.
Creswell, J. W., Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, 4th ed., Thousand Oaks, CA, SAGE, 2014.
Donlevy, J. K., Gereluk, D., and Brandon, J., ‘Trigger Warnings, Freedom of Speech, and Academic Freedom in Higher Education’, Education and Law Journal, vol. 28, no. 1, 2018, p. 1-41.
Edgson, M., ‘Does a Lack of Freedom of Speech in Universities Promote Extremism on Campus?’, The 1828 Journal, Web.
Grant, J., ‘We’re Working to Protect Free Speech at University – But Govt Needs to Stop Getting in the Way’, Politics.co.uk, Web.
Gray, A., ‘Freedom of Speech: Which Country Has the Most?’, World Economic Forum.
Janghorban, R., Roudsari, R. L., and Taghipour, A., ‘Skype Interviewing: The New Generation of Online Synchronous Interview in Qualitative Research’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-Being, vol. 9, 2014.
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Joint Committee on Human Rights, Freedom of Speech in Universities: Fourth Report of Session 2017-19, 2018. Web.
Moshman, D., ‘Four Campus Free Speech Problems Solved’, The Conversation.
Reville, W., ‘New Doctrine Threatens Freedom of Speech in Universities’, The Irish Times.
Schraer, R., and Butcher, B., ‘Universities: Is Free Speech Under Threat?’, BBC News.
Spiller, K., Awan, I., and Whiting, A., ‘What Does Terrorism Look Like?’: University Lecturers’ Interpretations of Their Prevent Duties and Tackling Extremism in UK Universities.” Critical Studies on Terrorism, vol. 11, no. 1, 2018, pp. 130-150.
University Council, ‘University Statement on Freedom of Speech’, University of Cambridge.
Young, T., ‘Free Speech Is Officially Dead in British Universities’, The Spectator, Web.
- Joint Committee on Human Rights, Freedom of Speech in Universities: Fourth Report of Session 2017-19, 2018, p. 7, Web.
- Council of Europe, European Convention on Human Rights, 2013, p. 12, Web.
- R. Schraer and B. Butcher, ‘Universities: Is Free Speech Under Threat?’, BBC News, Web.
- T. Young, ‘Free Speech Is Officially Dead in British Universities’, The Spectator, Web.
- J. W. Creswell, Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, 4th ed., Thousand Oaks, CA, SAGE, 2014, p. 185.
- R. Janghorban, R. L. Roudsari, and A. Taghipour, ‘Skype Interviewing: The New Generation of Online Synchronous Interview in Qualitative Research, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-Being, vol. 9, 2014, Web.
- A. Gray, ‘Freedom of Speech: Which Country Has the Most?’, World Economic Forum, Web.
- Edgson, M., ‘Does a Lack of Freedom of Speech in Universities Promote Extremism on Campus?’, The 1828 Journal, Web.
- K. Spiller, I. Awan, and A. Whiting, ‘What Does Terrorism Look Like?’: University Lecturers’ Interpretations of Their Prevent Duties and Tackling Extremism in UK Universities.” Critical Studies on Terrorism, vol. 11, no. 1, 2018, p. 132.
- A. Gray, ‘Freedom of Speech: Which Country Has the Most?’, World Economic Forum, Web.
- K. Burnett, ‘Freedom of Speech Is not Enough’, The University of Sheffield News, Web.
- University Council, ‘University Statement on Freedom of Speech, University of Cambridge, Web.
- W. Reville, ‘New Doctrine Threatens Freedom of Speech in Universities’, The Irish Times, Web.
- J. Grant, ‘We’re Working to Protect Free Speech at University – But Govt Needs to Stop Getting in the Way’, Politics.co.uk, Web.
- J. K. Donlevy, D. Gereluk, and J. Brandon, ‘Trigger Warnings, Freedom of Speech, and Academic Freedom in Higher Education, Education and Law Journal, vol. 28, no. 1, 2018, p. 34.
- D. Moshman, ‘Four Campus Free Speech Problems Solved’, The Conversation, Web.