Universities could be shut down if they don’t protect free speech, minister says

They could also face fines in less extreme cases

Universities could be shut down if they are found to be repeatedly in breach of free speech guidance set out by the Office for Students.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan told a House of Commons select committee that any punishment universities face will depend on the severity of the guidance breach.

“It might be that it’s a very minor breach, so warning and advice can suffice, or it could very well be a fine, or in a worst case scenario, say they are a repeat offender or it is grossly negligent, then they could in fact lose their registration conditions,” Donelan said.

When a university loses their registration conditions, this means they no longer have the power to award degrees and are effectively shut down.

In the same meeting Donelan voiced her concerns regarding online learning. “No university should be restricting their face-to-face provision based on Covid,” Donelan said. “That is certainly not our guidance.”

The minister added that while online learning “should never be used as a cost-cutting exercise” it can work effectively to “enhance learning.”

Donelan will be writing to universities this week to reiterate the government’s stance on online learning.

Related articles recommended by this writer:

• ‘Lecturers going on strike will not help students in any way,’ says universities minister

• Direct your anger at the people in charge, UCU boss tells students ahead of new vote on strikes

• University staff are voting on whether they should strike this term