HC Deb 16 March 1987 vol 112 cc367-8W
Mr. Amess

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has yet decided what action he will take following discussions about academic freedom with Ruskin college; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Walden

In recent months, I have had a series of discussions and exchanges with Ruskin college on the question of academic freedom. In particular, I have discussed with representatives of the college a statement on academic freedom made by the college's executive committee. That statement is based on, and in general terms endorses, a paper prepared by the college's academic advisers. Copies of both have been placed in the library.

The Government welcome the college's affirmation of its commitment to the principle of academic freedom. But the academic advisers' paper gives insufficient basis for confidence that this principle will in fact predominate over other considerations. In particular, the suggestion in the paper that the feelings or convictions of some members of staff or students may in effect circumscribe the freedom of expression of other members of the staff, is unacceptable.

The Government are determined to sustain the free circulation of ideas and freedom of speech within the law in all publicly funded institutions of further and higher education. Like some other educational institutions, Ruskin college has its own traditions which the Government do not wish to call into question. But such traditions must be expressed within a clear framework of academic and intellectual freedom.

The Government therefore intend to seek an independent assessment. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex, Dr. Albert Sloman, has agreed to lead a team of three members to carry our an inspection with the following terms of reference:

  1. (1) to inspect the college under the terms of Regulation 24(2) of the Education (Grant) Regulations 1983 to ascertain what principles at present apply with regard to academic freedom and what means are adopted for ensuring that those principles are put into practice;
  2. (2) to make recommendations to the Secretary of State as to the principles that should in future apply and the means that should be adopted for ensuring that they are put into practice.

I hope that this report will be completed in the coming months.

Copies of my exchange of letters with the principal of the college about this inspection have also been placed in the Library.