Efforts to disinvite or “no-platform” speakers, and other restrictions on speech, are increasingly common at British universities, according to the new 2017 UK university rankings by Spiked.  For the past three years, they have employed a traffic-light system (Red/Amber/Green), similar to that of FIRE, and this post briefly explores how the current trends on UK campuses differ from similar efforts in the US. To see a summary of Spiked’s methodology, please read our prior post from November 2016.

Most notably, Spiked reports that 94% of universities within the United Kingdom impose limitations on speech to some degree (63.5% rated Red, 30.5% rated Amber).  This represents an increase from 2016, when 90% (55% rated Red, 35% rated Amber) of universities levied speech limitations, and from 2015, when 80% (41% rated Red, 39% rated Amber) of universities imposed speech limitations.  Likewise, the percentage of universities rated Green has declined from fully one-fifth in 2015 to just 6% in 2017.  Thus, the overall trend at universities in the United Kingdom is towards more speech limitations on campus.  This trend appears to be particularly pronounced at Russell Group Institutions – the premier research universities.

Interestingly, while FIRE’s 2017 spotlight on speech codes reported that 92.4% (39.6% rated Red, 52.8% rated Yellow) of universities in the United States imposed limitations on speech to some degree, the trend is now downward. For the ninth year in a row the percentage of Red light universities has declined.  More importantly, an unprecedented number of universities (27) have eliminated all of their speech codes and thus received a green ranking.  Overall, FIRE’s ranking for 67 schools changed in the past year.  Of those 67 schools, 59 saw their ranking improve (54 went from Red to Yellow, 5 went from Yellow to Green) while only 8 imposed more speech restrictions and saw their ranking switch from Yellow to Red.

Overall, while there are still many universities in the United States that impose restrictions on speech, the trends appear to be moving in a direction of fewer limitations from administrators.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for universities in the United Kingdom.


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