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2022-05-27

Bring on the Higher Education Freedom of Speech Bill !

But surely freedom of speech is worth protecting?

So it is. Will this Bill do so?

The Free Speech Union overall are well-disposed to it (download).

Our oldest universities have been around for centuries. Newer institutions of "higher education" mushroomed into being after 1997 when Tony Blair declared that 50% of all school leavers should "go to Uni" - but although technical colleges had started their ascension through polytechnic status towards university status by the time I went to college in the late 60s, it was 2019 before the BBC was able to report that the hallowed 50% had actually been achieved.

So for many decades it was axiomatic that higher education establishments would be bastions of free speech - how else could the frontiers of science be pushed back except by open and challenging debate between peers?

So why now do we need new laws?

The obvious conclusion is that our HEPs ("Higher Education Providers" in the unedifying jargon of parliamentary bills) have fallen so far below the standards required that something must be done. This Bill is something, therefore it must be passed.

With a bit of luck and a fair wind, it may improve matters; let us hope so.

Nevertheless, in my book this is a sticking plaster applied to an ugly wound that should  merit a second opinion, even a wider assessment.

Where is the investigation that has identified why our HEPs (sorry to mention that ugly TLA again) have fallen so far below the expected standard that Parliament had to gird its loins and legislate?

Was it simply that Parliament had been delinquent in its duty to pass adequate legislation earlier and must now catch up, or were there other reasons that should be addressed?

For example, did government hegemony over the education system lead to a standardisation of offerings that promoted complacency and statis within the higher education control grid, maximising compliance with rules rather than the competition and innovation that increases student satisfaction, reduces costs, and advances the boundaries of knowledge through the creative destruction of accepted science inherent in the true scientific process?

If that hypothesis is correct (and the whole Covid imbroglio strongly suggests that it absolutely is), then no amount of new legislation will be sufficient to rectify the issue - it will simply morph into new forms that reestablish the status quo ante in legally compliant form.

I predict more bureaucracy, more forms to be filled, more compliance officers to be employed, and not too much free speech to really challenge the established system.

If you are a parliamentarian or a lawyer (or both), then every problem requires a new law, and If you are a parliamentarian, then no new law will reduce government control.

We the people must learn to challenge that moribund lack of thinking.