A union has hit back at a report that claims academics are being ‘silenced’ in their work over their pro-Brexit views.
The report, by think tank Policy Exchange, suggested there is a ‘structural discriminatory effect’ towards academics who identified as being on the right of politics.
Entitled Academic Freedom in the UK, the paper suggested that ‘hostile or just uncomfortable attitudes signal to those subject to such discrimination that they should conceal their views and narrow their research questions to conform to prevailing norms, if they wish to progress and enjoy a positive workplace experience’.
Researchers suggested pro-Leave professors were being forced to ‘self-censor’ out of fear that sharing such views could hamper their career opportunities.
‘The challenge today is that a serious threat to academic freedom may now, in addition, arise from within universities.
‘This internal threat derives from the way that some in the university-both students and faculty members-relate to others on campus, being willing to penalise them on the basis of their perceived or actual political views,’ it warned.
But the report – based on 820 working or retired academics – found very little evidence of political discrimination.
Jo Grady, general secretary of University and College Union (UCU), called the report’s findings a ‘myth’.
‘The idea that academic freedom is under threat is a myth,’ she said.
‘The main concern our members express is not with think tank-inspired bogeyman, but with the current government’s wish to police what can and cannot be taught at university.’
Others on Twitter agreed. One user wrote: ‘We all know there are many right wing Brexiteers. We have a Tory government and we are out of Europe. Now things are going down the toilet, all of a sudden they don’t have a voice? Please.’
Garry said: ‘They are not being forced to hide their views, they’re scared of debate and of being challenged to back up their views. If they can present their views with evidence and fact to back it up, maybe they wouldn’t be so reticent to express them.’
Andy King questioned the report’s subjectivity: ‘A scan through the Alumni page of the Think [tank] that brought this report show every MP they have or had on their books are all Conservative, including no other than Rishi Sunak. One assumes their reports will have a certain bias.’
The Office for Students, a university regulator, is planning to issue guidance on how higher education institutions can meet principles relating to academic freedom and free speech in the autumn.
A Universities UK (UUK) spokesman said: ‘Academic freedom and freedom of speech are critical to the success of UK higher education and universities take seriously their legal obligations on both.
‘Robustly protecting these characteristics in a constantly evolving world is of the utmost importance to universities.’