Majority of British students back no-platforming

Ian Johnston 26 April 2016

A BBC survey suggests that over two-thirds of UK students support the NUS no-platform policy. Of the 1001 students surveyed, 64% believe the NUS is right to maintain the policy. 54% of those surveyed believe the policy should be enforced against individuals who are considered ‘intimidating.’  

The no-platforming policy has been in place since the 1970s. It was set up to prevent fascist and racist groups from using universities as a platform from which to spout offensive or discriminatory opinions. Groups such as the BNP and extremist Islamic groups are banned from speaking at British universities. Universities can also use the policy to take independent decisions on the appearance of individuals considered ‘intimidating.’

Last year, Germaine Greer was prevented from speaking at the Union, because of her controversial views on trans-women. More recently, Kings College London withdrew an invitation to Boris Johnson, after the Mayor of London’s remarks on Barack Obama’s ancestry.

The survey is a confirmation of continued student support for no-platforming. The Vice-President of the NUS, Richard Brooks, appearing on a Radio Derbyshire programme, stated his pride in the policy. "It’s all about making sure that students stay safe on campus and don’t feel marginalised when they are debating. Some people have more equal rights than others and we want to make sure that marginalised groups get their voices heard." 

According to Brooks, the policy is "democratically decided", having been voted on in NUS meetings. It is designed to create a ‘safe space’, which promotes healthy debate in a comfortable atmosphere.

However, non-platforming has caused controversy in the past. Last year, an NUS representative refused to share a platform with the prominent gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell. In response, Tatchell questioned the validity for her claims that he was racist and transphobic. He describes the policy as a means of "people making false, baseless allegations to try and discredit their opponents."

News of the BBC survey and the programme also prompted lively debate on Twitter. One student stated: "If we could beat racism and fascism with rational debate we’d have done it by now." Others claimed it was a means of limiting free speech, "with no real positives." In Cambridge, opinions are equally divided. In the recent Union debate: 'This house believes in Political Debate, not Political Correctness’, 49% voted in favour of the proposition, with 22% against. The results suggest Union members believe the extensive use of the NUS policy to be stifling debate, rather than improving it.