Oxford and Cambridge JCR and MCR bodies are set to be made exempt from new freedom of speech laws targeted at higher education providers and their student unions, according to The Guardian.

The bill states that higher education providers and their student unions must “secure freedom of speech” for students, staff, and speakers. This includes making venues available to all groups or speakers and the publishing of a code of practice for all events.

The bill also gives the government the power to fine higher education institutions who do not enforce the rules.

Oxford student common rooms will be exempt from these laws but Oxford colleges will not be. During a debate on the bill, Michelle Donelan MP, the universities minister, said: “Colleges do fund their junior and middle common rooms. And to that extent, they can exert a lot of control over their activities, as these groups do not own or occupy their own premises, or run the room booking systems. And so imposing these freedom of speech duties on [them] does seem quite unnecessary and overly bureaucratic.”

The exemption was criticised by Labour MPs who accused the government of giving Oxford and Cambridge special treatment. Matt Western MP, the shadow minister for universities, said: “It is ridiculous for ministers to say that students in Warwick or Hull should be subject to unnecessary, burdensome bureaucracy and their student unions put at risk of being sued, but not the students of Oxford or Cambridge due solely to the makeup of the university. The government’s exclusive approach risks creating a two-tier system across our universities.”

Oxford University Student Union has been approached for comment.

Image credit: Mr Eugene Birchall / CC BY-SA 2.0 via Geograph

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