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. The Archbishop of Canterbury, in a speech on ‘Shared National Values’ in the House of Lords in December 2016, set an example of how to do this at the following link here.

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

Frequently Asked Questions

+ Are there any topics we shouldn’t discuss or debate?

+ What does our university’s Code of Conduct say about respecting different views?

+ What is the Prevent Strategy?

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

+ I am planning to invite an external speaker to talk at my event. What do I need to do next?

Legal limits to free speech

This list, taken from Freedom of speech on campus: rights and responsibilities in UK universities produced by UniversitiesUK, 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

    - being pregnant or on maternity leave

    - 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’.


To view a copy of our 'Social Media Policy' please click here

To view a copy of our 'Cause for Concern Policy' please click here

To view a copy of guidance provided by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Equality Challenge Unit and Universities UK please click here