Freedom of speech and Prevent

Free speech at Anglia Ruskin University

Our University believes that honest, thoughtful and respectful debate forms a vital part of education, and we provide a safe and welcoming environment where students and staff have the freedom to express and discuss varying views.

"Anglia Ruskin is committed to freedom of speech and academic freedom within the law. As well as forming part of our legal obligations, the ability to test ideas, to engage in reasoned debate, and to challenge constructively are central to our values as a diverse University community of students and staff. We seek actively to encourage this in a number of different ways: through the debates and speaker events that we hold, through our staff engaging publicly on topical subjects where they hold academic expertise, and through our education and research.

Our approach to Prevent is consistent with our commitment to freedom of speech within the law. In this context we may invite speakers onto our campuses who hold controversial views provided that we offer opportunities for them to be challenged and for alternative standpoints to be presented. The step of banning speakers or events is only taken exceptionally where extremist views are being promoted and risk members of our community from being drawn into terrorism. Debating political, cultural and religious subjects where differing views may be held does not engage the Prevent agenda and are an expected part of our discourse as a diverse community with students of many nationalities and cultural backgrounds."

Paul Bogle, ARU Secretary and Clerk

Our University encourages us to take part in vigorous debates on all sorts of topics, including issues of political, religious and cultural importance. We are aware however that students may be cautious of speaking freely. Our advice is, be confident, but speak with wisdom, politeness and care.

Be mindful of how you put your point across or express contentious views. Treat each other with respect, acting in a manner that supports the safety, freedom and wellbeing of others. This is covered in our Rules, Regulations and Procedures for Students and explained in our Code of Conduct: A Guide for Students, where there are penalties for students who are not professional and considerate in their dealings with others.

For example, make sure that your contributions to debates (whether in person or on social media) are constructive. Help maintain an atmosphere that promotes free speech by not taking offence or preventing others from speaking. Instead, challenge those you disagree with in a considerate way, and develop well thought out opposing arguments.

If you are a committee member of a society or an elected student representative you are considered a representative of the Students’ Union. The Students’ Union supports free and open debate but please be careful not to use your platform as a representative to promote your own personal views.

It is acceptable to examine and critique ideas, including government policy, as long as it is done with wisdom, politeness and care. A speech from The Archbishop of Canterbury about ‘Shared National Values’ in the House of Lords in December 2016, set an example of how to do this.

Everyone has a role to play in promoting a friendly, safe and inclusive University community.

Good Speech guidance and associated documents

ARU has issued guidance on good speech which includes the IHRA definition and affirms the University’s commitment to freedom of speech.

View our Good Speech guidance on free speech and its limits

Freedom of Speech Policy and external speakers form

View our Social Media Policy

View our Cause for Concern Guidance

Read more about the Prevent policy

Frequently asked questions

Are there any topics we should not discuss or debate?

Our University believes in free speech and is under a legal duty to promote this within the law. There are some legal limits to free speech, but only the most extreme views are prohibited.

What does our University's Code of Conduct say about respecting different views?

Our University’s Code of Conduct: A Guide for Students says:

  • be professional: abusive, threatening or otherwise offensive language or actions will be reported, leading to serious penalties including suspension and exclusion
  • be considerate: academic learning does and should provoke us to think and disagree. It does not however permit anyone to insult, disrespect or threaten others. Do not interrupt the lecture, challenge others rudely, monopolise discussions, or mock others.

What is the Prevent Strategy?

Prevent is one of four strands of CONTEST, the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy. The Counterterrorism and Security Act 2015 requires all Universities to have 'due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism'. This is known as the Prevent Duty.

Leadership and management of matters relating to Prevent at ARU is delegated to the Secretary & Clerk who is supported by a cross-university committee, the Prevent and Safeguarding Steering Group, which includes Students' Union representation and a Board champion.

One of our Prevent duties is to set up a policy and procedures for freedom of speech and approving external speakers and events on campus, as explained on this web page.

We also regularly review our Prevent risk-assessment relating to our welfare and safeguarding measures, our management of space, our use of ICT facilities and online studies and our responsibility for partner institutions.

A schedule of online training is provided for all staff, with face-to-face training for front-line staff, and is refreshed regularly.

Implementation of the Prevent Duty in the higher education sector is monitored by OfS. Each higher education institution must provide an annual accountability and data return report to OfS by 1 December each year.

Read more about the Prevent policy

I'm organising a debate on campus. Is there anything I should be aware of?

If you are planning to invite an external speaker to talk at your event, you must submit a Guest Speaker Form to the relevant department four weeks in advance with as much information as possible about the speaker and the content of the talk. For more guidance, follow the directions of the Freedom of Speech Policy.

If you are planning to invite an external speaker as part of a student society-led event, you must submit your Guest Speaker Form to the Student Activities Department of the Students’ Union four weeks prior to the event. This can be submitted online. Please see the form and further guidance on the Students’ Union’s Guest Speaker Policy.

Once you submit the form, it is sent to the Student Activities Team who will assess the request and make a decision. If necessary, the request will be referred to the Secretary and Clerk’s Office who will make a decision. The decision will then be communicated with the society committee responsible for the booking. Four weeks’ notice must be given to allow for the necessary assessments and decision-making to take place.

The Students’ Union endeavours to support all societies to run events with external speakers but sometimes when examining requests it may prove necessary to refuse permission for the speaker to attend or to impose conditions for that speaker.

Legal limits to free speech

This list, taken from Freedom of speech on campus: rights and responsibilities in UK universities produced by Universities UK, is an indication of the main legal restrictions on free speech and should not be taken as a complete guide.

  • Public Order Acts prohibit: violent, threatening or abusive conduct and speech; the stirring up of racial hatred with threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour; stirring up with threatening words or behaviour hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation; the stirring up of religious hatred with threatening words or behaviour (but insulting and abusive words are specifically permitted in the case of religion).
  • Terrorism Acts prohibit: the glorification of terrorism (including past acts of terrorism); inciting or encouraging acts of terrorism.
  • Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 requires universities to have particular regard to their duty to ensure freedom of speech in their exercise of the Prevent duty.
  • Equality Act 2010: it is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of:
    • age
    • being or becoming a transsexual person
    • being married or in a civil partnership
    • disability
    • race, including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
    • religion, belief or lack of religion/belief
    • sex
    • sexual orientation.

    These are called ‘protected characteristics’. The Equality Act 2010 proscribes speech or action which relates to a protected characteristic which has the purpose or effect of violating another’s dignity or of creating a hostile, intimidating, offensive or humiliating environment.

    Protection from Harassment Act 1997 prohibits: causing alarm or distress on at least two occasions, including racially or religiously aggravated versions.

    Law of tort proscribes defamation: statements that cause someone (or a company) loss of trade or cause a reasonable person to think worse of them; though there are several defences such as the truth of the statements or ‘fair comment’.