MUCH TO COMMEND IN GOVERNMENT REFORMS OF HIGHER EDUCATION-SOME PEERS CONCERNS ARE OVERBLOWN

As the Times said in a Leader on 4 January ’Lord Pattens claims that the  Higher Education bill threatens universities’ autonomy are overblown . He fears that it would inject the state into research appointments and funding decisions hitherto taken by academics, and would undermine the value of British higher education as an export.’ The main threat to exports has nothing of course  to do with this Bill, but a lot to do . instead, with our visa policy,  the hostile narrative  engineered by some politicians and inclusion of students in migration figures . As for Brexit, yes, it will present significant challenges  and  remove the source of some  funding but it will also incentivise universities to  forge  new  research alliances, seek new  sources of funding  and  to become more global in their outreach.( Big , prestigious   research rich Institutions  such as Imperial College , London ,already get 86% of their research funding from outside the EU)

Opposition to the Bill is coming from vested interests which always seek to protect the status quo, which, in practice  is  producer interests   masquerading  as concern for all the HE sector. Resistance to change has always occurred when any reforms have been mooted. Whether it was during the creation of new ‘Red Brick’ Universities back in the 1960s  or when the old Polytechnics sought university status. This is no different

The new reality is that the consumer is king. Student’s access to high quality information is vital if they are to make informed choices, as is  more accountability of institutions to students . Universities must be more open about the information they give and how much their degrees are worth in the job market, as well as  give more reliable destination measures.Too many students are paying for poor quality degrees that have no currency in the job market and which are not  even rated highly by academics themselves.   Of course universities are not just about gaining qualifications for the job market, but  that is at least  a  significant part of what many students expect from Higher Education .

Also, introducing new flexibility so students can change courses and institutions with the idea of Credit Accumulation and Transfer, will help in the UK’s drive to improve flexibility in higher education courses and ensure that new types of students from diverse education backgrounds are able to access relevant offerings

The balance between the research function and teaching at universities has long been weighted heavily in favour of research , to the detriment of the student offer and teaching quality. The quality of teaching in Higher Education remains, overall, poor and patchy. More competition  in the sector will lever performance and innovation and  force universities to  monitor and respond  more quickly to shifting demand, and the student voice, in a way that too many  HEIs are currently failing to do.  . The Bill gives an opportunity to address this imbalance and places the needs of students not academics first. The TEF will help achieve this.

The Office for Students is to replace the obsolete Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce). It would speed up the process of accrediting new institutions with the right to award degrees while giving the regulator the power to revoke that right from universities that fail to make the grade. The government’s goal which is sound is to widen the access to higher education while maintaining teaching standards through closer scrutiny. This is sound.

A diverse supply side in the sector, opening up competition will improve choice for students, drive innovation, and force institutions to raise the quality of both their academic and pastoral offers  to students. Of course the market needs robust regulation and the Bill makes provision for this. The US Higher Education sector with many private providers is acknowledged to be the best in the world , so we must open our minds to the possibility of more private operators entering the market, both for profit and not for profit

Sir Anthony Seldon said in a Times letter (4 Jan)’ For too long the sector has been dominated by the producer interest in higher education, ie the academics and administrators rather than the students, whose interests lie at the heart of the proposed legislation. The bill introduces long-overdue regulatory reform and highlights the importance of excellent teaching. The bill stimulates innovative thinking that will underpin, not undermine, the success of our university sector.’ He continued ‘If Lord Patten and others wanted to help British universities, they should be campaigning harder in the House of Lords to make visa applications easier for overseas students; they should be fighting to improve the dire mental-health position of students and, above all, they should be working to improve accountability while extending, not restricting, competition. Brexit is a reason not to delay, as Lord Patten argues, but to forge ahead.’

All this said, the Bill must guard against a potential danger of weakening standards, less effective quality control and consequent damage to international reputation and standing.  The government should be absolutely committed to maintaining the highest standards in the sector, both in maintained and private provision, ensuring that the new risk based regulatory system safeguards quality while improving competition and choice.

The sector is overly  keen to turn ifs guns on the private sector, and ‘profit making’  which is largely a distraction , from its own problems, which too often include ,  poor teaching, poor accommodation, poor tutorial support,   poor pastoral care, grossly over paid Vice Chancellors, poor  value added links with businesses and employers, ,  and a failure to acknowledge, or   respond to ,shifting demand and to meet  the aspirations of their students.

Sudents are beginning to look at  how their tuition fees are being spent, and they want value for money.

It is  no accident that its a private, independent , not for profit  University in the form of the University of Buckingham that consistently tops the league table for teaching quality and student satisfaction.

The House of Lords, with no democratic  mandate,  should take note  of all this before it seeks to undermine the very  purpose of a Bill that has  safely navigated  its passage through the Commons.

 

HOW THE WAY WE MAKE DECISIONS AND EXERCISE JUDGMENT CAN BE DEEPLY FLAWED

Daniel Kahneman is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University and Emeritus Professor of Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He was awarded the Nobel prize in Economics in 2002 for his pioneering work with fellow Israeli born Amos Tversky on decision-making and uncertainty. Kahneman is also  the author,  ,of the   best selling “Thinking Fast and Slow” (2011). Both Kahneman and Tversky  advanced the discipline of Behavioural Psychology immeasurably, but  the world has been slow to    work out how their insights   might  be used  to improve  decision making  , particularly in public policy.
Their joint research looked at how we humans make decisions, how we make choices (we are supposed to be rational) and how we rate probabilities, along with our ability to predict outcomes . Using research and extensive sampling from behavioural psychologists and economists they found that although quite often we make the right decisions , in other words they are demonstrably in our interests, it can be for the wrong reasons, and indeed we are all susceptible, in a systematic way, to making mistakes because of the way our brains, or minds, work. Our decision-making is subject to a number of biases ‘cues’ and preconceptions, of which we are mostly unaware. These biases often occur as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information. Social pressures, individual motivations, emotions, the way we tap our short term memories and limits on the mind’s ability to process information can all contribute to these biases.
The motivation of these psychologists was that if we know why we make errors of judgment, then we can try and do something about it. Which could have a profound effect on the way we manage our daily lives and in a broader way how our public services are delivered. In short we could improve decision-making,and might be able to spot where human judgment goes wrong. And maybe if we could figure this out, we might be able to close the gap between the expert and algorithms
Kahneman and Tversky demonstrate the ways in which human minds err systematically when forced to make judgments about uncertain situations, and we are all, of course ,daily presented with uncertain situations.
In such an uncertain world we understandably turn to ‘experts’. But, it transpires,  they are also subject to big errors of judgment.

Looking to the medical profession, Professor Paul J Hoffman, in his research as  far back as 1960 (The Paramorphic Representation of Clinical Judgment), looked at the way medical experts, in this case radiologists, diagnosed whether patients had stomach cancer from X- rays. In some  walks of human life there is a lack of sufficient data to build algorithms that might replace the human judge, but medicine is not necessarily one of them . Hoffman wanted to find out how radiologists reached their judgments. He set out to create a model of what these experts were doing when they formed their judgments. So, Hoffman identified the various inputs that experts used to make their decisions. The radiologists said there were seven major signs that they looked for to identify whether a stomach ulcer was cancerous. For example, its size, the shape of its borders, the depth of the crater etc. A simple algorithm was created looking at the seven factors equally weighted.. The researchers then asked the doctors to judge the probability of cancer on a seven point scale from ‘definitely malignant’ to ‘definitely benign’. Unbeknownst to the doctors, they presented  the 92 x rays of different ulcers  ,in random order, with  each x ray presented  twice.

The results were, in a certain sense, terrifying.

Although doctors thought the processes they followed to make their judgments were complex and, of course ,informed by experience this simple model captured them well. Their diagnoses were in fact all over the shop. When presented with duplicates of the same ulcer every doctor contradicted himself and rendered more than one diagnosis. The doctors apparently could not even agree with themselves. A similar experiment with clinical psychologists and psychiatrists asking them to predict whether it was safe to release a patient from a psychiatric hospital found that those with the least training who had just graduated were just as accurate as the fully trained experienced practitioners.
The lesson drawn from the x- ray test was that a simple algorithm had outperformed not merely the group of doctors but it had outperformed even the best individual doctor. So you could beat the doctor by replacing him with an equation created by people who knew nothing about medicine and had simply asked a few questions of doctors.(remember this was 1960!)

There is now quite a lot of research out there that tells us about how often we make misjudgments, although given good information, on the effectiveness of algorithms (man, versus man made model) and the growing impact, and potential impact of Artificial Intelligence (which is rapidly rising up the political agenda) but we seem to have been remarkably slow at putting this knowledge to good use , particularly in the field of Education and Learning. Hopefully, this will change soon.

It is pretty clear that psychological issues are relevant to policy formulation and implementation  and in the design of  ‘choice ‘architecture . You cannot assume that all individuals, acting for themselves or as economic agents, are completely rational. Most of the time, as Kahneman points out, we can trust intuition, and indeed we do. He draws the distinction between fast thinking and slow thinking, and our lives are mostly run on fast thinking, which normally does us very well. But , there are situations where people would do better by slowing down and where they need more than a little help. And experts judgment can be fatally wrong. Don’t just think of medicine here , think of the financial crash of 2007/8 and other sectors .-one might also look at a few flawed experiments in education policy as education ministers  are as subject to biases (and cherry picking evidence) as the next  person.

. Kahneman says “ We haven’t yet found the right model to look at decision-making under fear, how people react when the world feels dangerous and uncertain.” So the work is on-going but there is infinite scope for making better use of man-made models and exploiting Artificial Intelligence within a secure regulatory framework.

See also, The Undoing Project –A Friendship that Changed the World, Allen- Lane 2017 ;by Michael Lewis (which describes the context of behavioural psychology research, and the relationship between Kahneman and Tversky) 
https://www.amazon.com/Undoing-Project-Friendship-Changed-Minds/dp/0393254593

COLLABORATION BETWEEN   INDEPENDENT AND STATE SCHOOLS- IT HAPPENS MORE OFTEN THAN YOU MIGHT THINK

The recent Green Paper, sets out proposals to increase selection in the maintained sector. It aims, through increasing selection, to make more good school places available, improving choice , driving up attainment which in turn will improve social mobility. It proposes that those independent schools with charity status, either set up, or sponsor, a state school. But that’s not all. Ministers want an increase in the number of bursaries available and, also, suggest other measures, which are listed, that schools ought   to be undertaking   more of, to deliver public benefit.  (One wonders how much time they will have left for their core business.)  If schools don’t jump through the hoops, they may have to forfeit their charitable status. While acknowledging that many independent schools are small, and that most members of the ISC are currently involved in some form of partnership arrangement or activity, (87% of ISC schools are ‘in mutually beneficial partnerships with state schools and local communities, sharing expertise, best practice and facilities to the benefit of children in all the schools involved’) the government insists that while this is good, as far as it goes, it is simply  not enough.

The assumption, on the government’s part, is that that because most of these selective  schools achieve good results then they can help non-selective  state schools achieve better results driving up attainment which will have a transformative effect across the maintained sector, delivering more good places. Maybe they can. But evidence suggests that this assumption is, at the very least, debateable. It does not necessarily follow that a good selective school will  ensure that any non-selective school it runs will be good or  outstanding particularly if they take on schools in the most disadvantaged areas, which are often the most challenging .  Rather obviously it’s a different context, and a different challenge.

There is also  a belief in the sector that the government has an unnecessarily narrow and overly prescriptive view of what public benefit looks like.

Unsurprisingly, the government’s threats, combined with the accompanying possible sanctions, have not gone down well with the independent sector. If you want transformative outcomes, from any institution, as a rule, it’s probably not a good opening gambit to threaten them. Incentivise them, yes. Threaten them, no. This Green paper is heavy on sticks, light on carrots.

The Independent sector is used to being a whipping boy for Labour governments. But for a Conservative government to attack them in this way, well, it’s almost unprecedented (mind you it’s also attacking the business community so the sector shouldn’t feel totally alone on that score) and arguably counter-productive. The sector argues that both in scale and scope there are many on-going, effective partnership   arrangements that help deliver public benefit between the sectors, although rarely are these given publicity by the media, or indeed historically at least  by the DFE.  The sector also complains that many of its attempts to forge relationships with the maintained sector are rebuffed.

It does accept, though, that more could be done by some schools, with the requisite capacity, to work more closely with the maintained sector to bridge the divide and to improve outcomes, crucially, through partnership working and active collaboration.

A new organisation has been formed, with the support of the ISC and DFE- ‘The Schools Together Group’ chaired by Christina Astin (Kings School Canterbury) It  held its inaugural meeting last week in Westminster. Lord Nash, the education Minister was among the speakers.  The Groups mission statement is’ Harnessing the power of partnerships for the benefit of children’

It has three aims:

to highlight the projects and partnerships which currently exist between independent schools and maintained schools or community groups

to provide a selection of case studies and best practice guides which add more detail about specific types of existing projects and partnerships so that others interested in setting up similar activities have the support they need

to encourage and enable more collaboration between schools and within local communities by putting people in touch

The official launch was timely. With the Green Paper pushing the sector to do more, here   was proof positive that the sector had got this message, without any prompting,  some time ago, with over 1400 projects and cross sector partnerships, already up and running.(see web site)

The audience, from the outset, was reminded of Frederick Douglass’ dictum  ‘ It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men’.

It seems to be accepted, at least at one level, by the government, that the basis of a good, self-improving school system is effective partnership working, although that message is all but lost in the Green paper.  Lord Nash, however, for his part, understands the value of collaboration and partnership working based on his own  experience with Multi Academy Trusts. At this meeting he accepted that there were many good partnerships between the sectors but reminded the audience that social mobility was not improving and much more needed to be done.

Social mobility is a difficult, stubborn issue, of course, which won’t go away. Sadly, it seems to be getting worse, at least if you look at the latest Social Mobility Commission report.  That concludes that, if anything, the rungs of the mobility ladder are getting further apart.  Intractable problems, though, rarely have simple solutions. And the Green paper proposals, which are designed apparently to ease social mobility, look very unlikely in the view of the Social Mobility Commission at least, to do any such thing. (Indeed, they might make matters worse) The Minister, while understanding concerns being expressed about the Green Paper, said that the government wants more from the sector, but added that it genuinely welcomes feedback on its proposals and is in listening mode. We shall see. (the autumn statements allocation of  capital funding for grammar schools expansion suggests to some   that the governments mind is made up, before the consultation has closed)

Deborah Leek Bailey, who chaired the launch, claimed that there was a massive appetite in the independent sector for more engagement with the state sector. There is much scope for working across the sectors, in particular, in Primary schools where much subject specific work is  already being done to enrich the curriculum-in science, languages, maths, technology Latin and in particular  the minority subjects. This all looks promising.

Martin Robinson whose book the Trivium has influenced approaches in the state and independent sectors, particularly in promoting the liberal arts,  believes that the independent sector can offer support in two main areas -Culture and Curriculum. He added though that this has to be two way, and involve reciprocity mutual support and respect. In many areas, the curriculum is being narrowed. He singled out Art History, Classics and Latin as areas where support could be given. On the Cultural side independent schools are often strong in Sports, Arts, Drama and Music, Debates, Cadets, Conferences and so on. He mentioned the idea of ‘Uber’ teachers (not to be confused with taxis or Nietzsche for that matter), excellent specialist  teachers who can move  between sectors  and give support where required . There is much more scope for bringing together staff from both sectors, professional voices to start conversations, to bridge the sector divide, on a sustained basis.

The work of Newhams London Academy of Excellence was mentioned several times as a very successful model for cross sector partnerships (Sixth Form) which has a   higher success rate at getting pupils into Oxbridge than many independent schools.

Jonathan Taylor mentioned mutual learning and respect as important and geography(ie location) could be too, it was  certainly important  in  the York partnership,  He said that there has to be an operational steering group and don’t forget a  paid co-ordinator for partnerships if you are serious about wanting results.

Alex Galvin, senior education lead SSAT, outlined her organisations approach (the largest state school network) and gave some pointers on partnership working and collaboration. SSAT is experienced at helping to facilitate partnership working, of putting potential partners in touch with each other, acting as a facilitator ensuring that partnerships become   a community of shared practice and research. For partnerships to be successful there is a role for brokerage.  You can’t impose partnerships on schools. They must be based on trust. There is scope too for introducing schools to new partners they don’t   already know. Partnerships must have a clear aim and purpose, of course. And the right partner has got to be chosen for the right purpose. And, the same message repeated time and again at this meeting, the   benefits must be seen be going both ways. Good partnerships mean   you are raising attainment together, with dignity.

The Headteacher of Kingsland Community School, Newham, Joan Deslandes has worked closely with Richard Cairns of Brighton College, following their chance meeting in China.  Big things can come from these small conversations, between professionals. She said that partnerships must be integral to the school development plan. Her partnership with Brighton College has resulted, amongst other things, she says, in her school in a disadvantaged area, having some of the best science teaching and results in London,

 

What are the key messages from this meeting?

Take a look at the web site – there is an awful lot happening that you don’t know about on partnerships with information/case studies that could help you forge your own partnerships.

The state sector is quite often reluctant to engage and may need incentives

Professional to professional contact and engagement, can break down barriers. From small beginnings, good partnerships can grow

Effective partnerships must be organised professionally and have a clear purpose and objectives, but also depth. It’s not just about the Heads.  At their core often is a community of shared good practice   and research.

To be sustainable the relationship must be reciprocal, with a clear understanding of the mutual benefits that can be gained, by all parties, based on trust and respect.

These partnerships, if well-structured and run, can offer a diversity of shared activities and outcomes which can significantly enrich the curriculum offer, particularly but not exclusively at Primary schools, as well as offering potentially big cultural dividends.

The Green paper is a deep worry to many in  the sector, partly because of its tone-based  seemingly on threats and potential sanctions but also its apparent  lack of acknowledgement for the importance of partnerships (rather than simply bi-lateral relationships) and specifically for the real progress being made in partnership development between the sectors .(surely if you are involved in a partnership this  could be as  good as running or sponsoring a school in terms of delivering  public  benefit )

Those attending were urged to contribute to the Green Paper Consultation

Schools Together is supported and maintained by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) in collaboration with the Department for Education and the Independent/State Schools Partnership (ISSP). It is chaired by Christina Astin with a Steering Committee Tom Arbuthnott (Eton College) Sarah Butterworth(Highgate School) Harry Chapman (Kings College Wimbledon) http://www.schoolstogether.org/

SELECTIVE SCHOOLS AND THE QUALITY OF TEACHING

The Government says , with respect to its recent Green Paper, ‘ Within our new proposals, we have been clear that we expect selective schools to support non-selective schools, looking to them to be engines of academic and social achievement for all pupils, whatever their background, wherever they are from and whatever their ability’ So the clear presumption is that selective Schools have better teachers and teaching than non-selective schools.. but where is the evidence? The fact that selective schools perform better could be entirely due , or due at least in significant part, to the quality of their intakes, surely?  You would have to demonstrate that selective schools add more value to their pupils than non-selective schools across the board to justify such a claim.  In which case, where is the data that shows us  that this is the case?

FSM PUPILS STILL BEING FAILED

One reason why Theresa May seems now to be focusing more on those’ hard working families just about managing’ rather than on the most disadvantaged cohort, as refllected in her speech to Conference and the recent Education Green Paper,  is for sound political reasons, in that they are the voters disillusioned with establishment politicians, who feel they are not being listened to, are on stagnant incomes  and who voted in huge numbers for Brexit . She  wants to attract them back into the fold, with what she sees as more ‘inclusive’ policies.  Another reason could be that despite successive governments best efforts and attempts to intervene to help the most disadvantaged and to close the attainment gap between them and their mainstream peers , only  glacial progress is being made in this area. Could it be that the government has all but given up on narrowing the achievement gap between pupils on Free school meals and mainstream pupils ? As Sir Michael Wilshaw pointed out recently the attainment gap between FSM and non-FSM secondary students hasn’t budged in a decade. It was 28 percentage points 10 years ago and it is still 28 percentage points today. Thousands of poor children who are in the top 10% nationally at age 11 do not make it into the top 25% five years later. He added that the fact that a quarter of a million youngsters leave school after 13 years of formal education without a GCSE in English and Maths is a national disgrace.
One interesting issue raised ,and question put, in the recent Green paper, was how to identify and target these hard working families who don’t quite qualify for FSM. The short answer is that ,at the moment it  is difficult and it seems pretty widely accepted that the FSM measure is too clunky and indiscriminate to be an accurate indicator  for the most disdavantaged, and isnt much use for the group that  May seeks to target, . Neither The Pupil data base nor the standard returns made by schools give the granular details necessary. However work is being done behind the scenes with HMRC and other agencies to improve the metrics and data to enable more forensic targeting. So watch this space.

FORCING UNIVERSITIES TO SET UP, OR SPONSOR SCHOOLS, IN RETURN FOR FEE RISES IS NONSENSE ON STILTS

The Government said  in its recent  Green Paper that it   wants  all universities  either to   sponsor existing schools or set up new schools in exchange for the ability to charge   higher fees.

In addition to, but not instead of, the above requirements,  the government said  that  universities could consider:

  • supporting schools through being a member of the governing body or academy trust board;
  • assisting with curriculum design, mentoring of school pupils, and other educational support; and
  • provision of human resources, teaching capacity (for example in A-level STEM subjects), and finance support.

‘In addition to driving attainment, we could ask universities to consider taking into account geography, the number of good school places or higher education participation rates when deciding where to focus their energies’.

This proposal doesn’t even look good on paper.

It is not the business of universities to run schools . Besides, there is no evidence that they are  any good at it.   Why would they be?  Even specialist organisations that run schools as their core business find setting up,  or sponsoring,   a new school,   a challenging business. A number of Universities have tried, and to say that their record is patchy is an understatement.

If a University wants  to set up a new school then it needs to make a compelling  business   case for it, with a rigorous  risk assessment attached. Otherwise we will have more failed  ventures  on our hands,   that are wasteful , damaging to the institutions involved ,  and , most importantly, hugely damaging to pupils.

As one insider  put it to to me ‘  In what other sector could you imagine being required to do something you have no experience of in order to be able to ,or allowed to,  develop and market your core business?’

Good leadership ,and above all high  quality  teachers and teaching, are at the heart of  every  good school . But , who with their hand on their heart, can honestly  say that these  are currently the perceived   strengths of our  Higher Education Sector ?Indeed one of  the major motivating factors behind the Higher Education and Research Bill was the poor quality of teaching in too many universities . So, the government  is now actively incentivising   institutions , many with poor quality teachers and teaching,  to set up or sponsor schools… really?

Of course, the HE Sector could , and should, support schools and pupils  and add value in various  ways. There are many partnership programmes up and running already. This engagement between the HE sector and schools though   should be informed by  hard evidence of what works and is most effective.  Some Access programmes could be  better structured and evaluated, for example  but there is plenty of sound practice to be built on too.   Student progression,  transition  (and  careers guidance),  to higher education is an area where universities can do much  more. Curriculum and  professional development are two other  areas , as well as those  mentioned above in the Green paper.

But  forcing a university to set  up or sponsor a school in order  for it to raise its  fees makes no sense.  It could also do a lot of harm.

A much more flexible, evidential  approach is required from the government and  one should  pray that this will  be reflected in the eventual proposals that come out of the consultation process.

BARONESS AMOS ON PROTECTING FREE SPEECH IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Universities are about the communal examination of ideas
There is a new intolerance that is sweeping higher education in the US and UK. Its an intolerance of words, ideas and images. Andrew Anthony expressed it thus “ a zealous form of cultural policing that relies on accusatory rhetoric and a righteous desire to censor history, literature, politics and culture.” A new vernacular is developing around this of ‘Safe Spaces’, ‘no-platforming’ and ‘ trigger warnings ‘. Worryingly, many universities, rather than defending freedom of speech and expression are doing the opposite. Allowing a new culture of censorship to develop.
Research by online magazine Spiked, shows that 80% of universities, as a result of their official policies and actions, to have either restricted or actively censored free speech and expression on campus, beyond the requirements of the law. However, it transpires Students’ own representative bodies are far more censorious than the universities themselves.
An obsession with protecting people’s feelings has, over time, begun to trump other values. Including it seems the values of the Enlightenment and the exercise of dispassionate, secular reason, on which the foundations of world class universities were built. This seems to have combined with social Medias considerable capacity to give currency, organisation, effect, and faux credibility to minority radical views. (There is scant evidence that a majority of students sympathise with these views-an HEPI poll for example this year found a majority of undergraduates agreeing that universities should never limit free speech )
But there is a push back underway. Earlier this year ,Professor Louise Richardson, Oxfords Vice Chancellor said : “We need to expose our students to ideas that make them uncomfortable so that they can think about why it is that they feel uncomfortable about and what it is about those ideas that they object to. And then to have the practice of framing a response and using reason to counter these objectionable ideas and to try to change the other person’s mind and to be open to having their own minds changed. “That’s quite the opposite of the tendency towards safe spaces and I hope that universities will continue to defend the imperative of allowing even objectionable ideas to be spoken.” (Daily Telegraph 16 Jan 2016)
More recently in  a  speech at Melbourne University (14 September Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Foundation Lecture)- Baroness Amos, Director of SOAS, offered a robust defence of free speech on campus. She said “Universities are about the communal examination of ideas”. Adding that “ As the next generation of intellectuals, while you have a duty to test and critique the boundaries of scholarship, you also have a duty to ensure respect for others as these boundaries are tested. The debate will only ever be as good as the space it is given. Argument and disagreement are all part of the course to finding solutions. It is only through the interplay of constructive and engaged examination, that we can progress in our understanding and knowledge of the world. As leaders in higher education – the key sector of society which provides such space across the world. I feel we have a duty to preserve and protect free speech. It is a duty I hold dear.”
But as Lady Amos points out ,as others have her before her “ it must also be recognised that these rights are not absolute – these are rights that need to be exercised with due regard for others – with respect.”

When universities stop being about confronting new and challenging, perhaps even dangerous, ideas, and instead become self-censoring spaces in which students are  protected from ideas that might offend , and in which acceptable views, and speakers, are defined ( by a self-appointed illiberal  elite), , and others banned, not only the pursuit of truth is imperiled but the very purpose of universities is  undermined.