University students to be surveyed on freedom of speech

University students to be surveyed on freedom of speech

University students will be asked about their views on freedom of speech on campus through a national survey.

In June, several Australian universities announced they would adhere to a freedom of speech code recommended following a Federal Government review.

The move followed a call by Federal Education Minister, Dan Tehan, for universities to implement a ‘model code’ to protect freedom of speech and academic freedom on campus.

The model code was drafted by a former High Court chief justice, Robert French, as part of his review of freedom of speech in Australian universities.

This week, Federal Education Minister, Dan Tehan, announced the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) survey would be updated to include questions about freedom of speech.

The annual QILT survey receives about 500,000 responses from students, graduates and employers. It includes the Student Experience Survey which asks current students about their learning experiences.

“The Government is ensuring that Australian universities are places that encourage freedom of speech,” Tehan said.

“That is why we will ask students if they believe their opinions are welcome even if those opinions challenge the accepted norms on campus. The test of our commitment to free speech is whether we can tolerate the speech of others, even when we disagree with what they are saying.”

Tehan said Australia’s universities are at their “strongest and most relevant” when they “provide a platform to a diversity of views and provide freedom from the pernicious threat of groupthink”.

“Universities should be institutions that encourage diversity of thinking, perspective and intellectual style because that is how we get innovation and problem solving,” he said.

“They should strive to be places that foster the ability to listen to other viewpoints and where disagreement does not involve verbal attacks or threats.”

Tehan said the Federal Government will work with the sector on what questions to ask to measure diversity of opinion on campus and whether students feel empowered to voice non-conformist opinions.

“Universities, students and the public should know if students and staff are afraid to raise certain topics,” he said.