Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has called on educational institutions to focus on tackling harassment and antisemitism rather than looking at “trigger warnings” on content.
She added there was a need for “common sense” over the issue of universities placing warnings about content on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories.
Donelan said students needed to learn to live in the real world after they graduated.
She said: “There are no trigger warnings every day as you operate.
“I’ve not met students who have called for these trigger warnings either.
“They are not the issues that students are bringing up to me – they’re bringing up sexual harassment, they’re bringing up antisemitism,” she said.
Donelan added: “Harry Potter is actually a children’s book.
“Fundamentally it is probably a multimillion-pound industry that has been franchised into films. To say that we need to protect some of our brightest and our best from the likes of Harry Potter is to not only do our universities a disservice but to do our students a disservice.”
In a speech to the Policy Exchange think tank, Donelan also defended the government’s Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which will now be carried over to the next session of parliament.
She said the Bill was aimed at preventing “the shutting down of free speech by violence and threats of violence.”
Donelan added: “I find it completely deplorable that, last year, balaclava-clad protestors forced a female academic, Kathleen Stock to stay off campus under threats of physical violence.
“Nor was this an isolated event. Just a few weeks later, the Israeli Ambassador was hounded by an intolerant mob outside an LSE event – facing threats and insults that no other foreign diplomat faces in the UK.
“We are not talking here about peaceful protest, the right to which is sacrosanct. We are talking about threats, intimidation and harassment; the shutting down of free speech by violence and threats of violence.”
She said the government’s Bill “will put a duty on universities to promote free speech and academic freedom, not just protect it.”
She added:” It will put a duty directly on Students’ Unions to protect free speech.”
Donelan revealed the plan is to it establish a new Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom on the Office for Students Board – “with the power to fine universities, colleges and students’ unions and recommend real redress for those who have had their speech unlawfully restricted.”
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