SOAS Director says free speech not under threat on UK campuses

Prevent Strategy, free speech
Valerie Amos gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on 10 January 2018.

SOAS Director Valerie Amos, along with several other university leaders, has delivered a full-throated denial of the suppression of free speech at campuses throughout the UK.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, Baroness Amos said: “I don’t think that, in the last ten years or so, there has been anybody who’s been ‘no-platformed’ at SOAS or anything like that.”

The SOAS Director’s comments were supported by all other invited guests, that included university Vice Chancellors and Student Union representatives.

Amos instead used the occasion to highlight concerns over the Government’s Prevent strategy: 

“There is a sense on our campus and among a lot of our students that they are operating in an environment where they feel under particular scrutiny, whereas students who may be Muslim or come from ethnic minorities or have a particular political view, they are under additional scrutiny as a result of that. I see – and Board of Trustees see – our responsibility as helping to mitigate that sense that [students] are not able to be open and free – and express their views openly.”

Amos said SOAS was: “frequently being asked as a university authority why we have not made any referrals through what is called Channel with respect to the Prevent legislation, so indicating to the authorities that there are individuals that we are concerned about.

“Our view is that we feel as a university we have a duty of care to all of our students, but the policies that we have outside of Prevent are sufficient in helping us to recognise whether or not there are students that we should be concerned about.

“We have not felt that we have had to refer any students through the Channel mechanism. That does not stop us being asked why we have not done that, which I think is interesting.”

Amos’s argument was supported by Patrick Kilduff, president of Edinburgh University Students’ Association, who said: “The real threats [to free speech] are coming from Government legislation like Prevent.”

The remarks also echo comments made by SOAS academic Alison Scott-Baumann who, in an article for WONKHE, said: “Our research shows that the real risks to free speech come, not from the ‘snowflake generation’, but from government-originated initiatives. Specific pressure is applied to Muslim student groups and those interested in the Middle East.”

Watch the full Committee appearance here.

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