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Gavin Williamson slams chairman of student watchdog for failing to protect free speech on campuses 

Gavin Williamson slams outgoing chairman of student watchdog for failing to protect free speech on Britain’s campuses

  • Gavin Williamson criticised Office for Students for not protecting free speech
  • He said under Sir Michael Barber ‘little regulatory action’ has been taken
  • In a letter, he urged Lord Wharton of Yarm to ‘use the full range of its powers’

Gavin Williamson has hit out at the outgoing chairman of a student watchdog for failing to protect free speech on Britain’s university campuses.

The Education Secretary penned a letter last night to Sir Michael Barber and Lord Wharton of Yarm, who is set to take over from Sir Barber as the chairman on the Office for Students.

Williamson urged Lord Wharton to take a stronger stance on protecting freedom of speech than his predecessor did, The Times reports.

In the letter, Williamson wrote: ‘To date there has been little regulatory action taken by the OfS in relation to potential breaches of the registration conditions relating to freedom of speech and academic freedom, despite a significant number of concerning incidents reported since the full suite of its regulatory powers came into force.’

Gavin Williamson (pictured) has hit out at the outgoing chairman of a student watchdog for failing to protect free speech on Britain’s university campuses

Adding to this, the Education Secretary wrote that he wanted the Office for Students to take more active and visible action to challenge incidents where free speech is restricted. 

Lord Wharton of Yarm is set to take over as head of the watchdog in April after being approved for the role. 

It wasn’t just freedom of speech that Williamson addressed in his letter, with the quality of education offered by university’s also drawing his attention. 

The Education Secretary also urged the Office for Students to ‘use the full range of its powers and sanctions’ where it finds that the quality of education on offer is not high enough.

The Education Secretary penned a letter last night to Sir Michael Barber (pictured) and Lord Wharton of Yarm, who is set to take over from Sir Barber as the chairman on the Office for Students

The Education Secretary penned a letter last night to Sir Michael Barber (pictured) and Lord Wharton of Yarm, who is set to take over from Sir Barber as the chairman on the Office for Students

Indirectly referencing Leicester University’s decision to drop Geoffrey Chaucer and Beowulf from their English curriculum, Williamson said that administrators should not force teaching staff to drop authors or texts that add ‘rigour and stretch’ to a course. 

He also criticised universities that had not adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.

Universities could face fines if they do not adopt the definition.

It comes as the Education Secretary had started drawing up plans for students to return to their universities in England from next month.

The Education Secretary will announce on February 22 that final year students in practical degrees will go back to campus, with their peers expected to follow shortly after.

Lord Wharton of Yarm (pictured) is set to take over as head of the watchdog in April after being approved for the role

Lord Wharton of Yarm (pictured) is set to take over as head of the watchdog in April after being approved for the role

But vice-chancellors say that most of their students have already been told to stay at home, while the unions – which have plagued Mr Williamson’s tenure – are unwavering in their complaints about Covid safety.

It comes amid wrangling over when the national lockdown will end with schools expected to reopen on March 8, the keystone in Boris Johnson’s plan to liberate Britain.

Mr Williamson’s announcement for the universities coincides with the Prime Minister’s February 22 date to produce a roadmap ‘to unlock.’

The Department of Education is planning for the first students to go back to campuses in lockstep with the reopening of schools on March 8.

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