Girls are more likely to block free speech at university

Recent trends suggest an increase in ‘illiberal’ views

Research by the Higher Education Policy Institute has found that female students are more likely to support a ban on free speech in universities.

The recently published study found that compared to their male counterparts, female students would be more inclined to ban speakers with “offensive” views on campus. Some experts have suggested that female students, statistically more likely to study a humanities topic such as English, are more inclined to want the change.

In the report, the statistics show that 55 per cent of the women questioned think that universities should be ‘safe spaces’, compared to 39 per cent of men.

The report, called Keeping Schtum? What Students Think of  Free Speech, said 76 per cent of students would support a ban on speakers who offended them.

Those that were questioned have been described as the “snowflake generation”, suggesting that do not nurture a liberal mindset that is open to ideas with which they don’t agree. The mindset has been described as “illiberal”.

The findings by the Hepi have been released at a time where controversial speakers are increasingly cancelled at universities. In the last year a scheduled talk by the author Germaine Greer was cancelled in Cardiff University amid concerns that her content would offend. Following her opinions on transsexual men and women, the feminist writer was forced to cancel her appearance amid concerns that she would cause too much offense.

CUSU LGBT+ at Cambridge also boycotted events where Greer spoke

CUSU LGBT+ at Cambridge also boycotted events where Greer spoke

In the same vain, the platform for speakers who are dubbed as racist and sexist is increasingly being called into question by students.

With more and more students asking for warnings to be given before sensitive topics are discussed, the trends suggest that students are now less likely to engage and interact with ideologies and philosophies.


45 per cent of women and 29 per cent of men agreed that they would support a refusal by student unions to sell tabloid newspapers. Literature containing Holocaust denial opinions have also been questions, with some suggesting they should be removed altogether from libraries. 27 per cent of those questioned by Hepi thought that UKIP speakers should not be invited to universities to address academics.

The trend has also been supported by statistics produced by the NUS in which 76 per cent of students would support a ‘no platform’ policy for some speakers.

The newly appointed head of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, recently supported the Rhodes scholar, Ntokozo Qwabe, at Oriel College, Oxford, as he called to have a statue of Cecil Rhodes removed. The status was dubbed as a racist reminder of the apartheid in South Africa.


However, 51 per cent of the men thought that students societies today are “overly sensitive”, compared to 36 per cent of women.

In recent publications, commentators and academics alike have taken a negative view towards the findings with historian Amanda Foreman describing them as “sad”. The author of the report, Nick Hillman, has said that the report is the first real study of how young students feel about platforms and censorship in university environments. He said, “it makes worrying reading” and called for institutions to discuss the challenges to free speech within their student communities.