Char­ity banned from univer­sity fresh­ers fair

Nuneaton Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE -

WAR­WICK Stu­dents’ Union has re­fused to let an anti-abor­tion char­ity have a stand at its fresh­ers fair.

The pro-life char­ity, which de­scribed the move as “a vi­o­la­tion of the right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion” and “wholly un­ac­cept­able”, says it has had ap­pli­ca­tions for stands de­nied at three uni­ver­si­ties in­clud­ing War­wick. Char­ity bosses at Life have writ­ten a let­ter of com­plaint to the Of­fice for Stu­dents, the in­de­pen­dent reg­u­la­tor of higher ed­u­ca­tion in Eng­land.

It has asked the or­gan­i­sa­tion for “a guar­an­tee” that their pres­ence at the cam­puses “will not be im­peded in fu­ture”.

The char­ity’s di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion ac­cused stu­dents’ unions of op­er­at­ing as “a law unto them­selves” and crit­i­cised uni­ver­si­ties for not tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity.

War­wick Stu­dents’ Union said it sup­ports a “pro-choice stance” on the mat­ter of abor­tion fol­low­ing a demo­cratic vote and has no obli­ga­tion to al­low the char­ity on cam­pus. The Of­fice for Stu­dents said, al­though it “cham­pi­ons” free­dom of speech at higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions, their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties ex­tend to uni­ver­si­ties and not stu­dents’ unions.

A spokesper­son for War­wick Stu­dents’ Union said: “The Stu­dents’ Union has a pol­icy that was voted on by our mem­bers to sup­port a Pro-Choice stance. In ad­di­tion, we are un­der no obli­ga­tion to al­low ex­ter­nal or­gan­i­sa­tions to use our spa­ces, and as such are able to ex­er­cise the right to choose who we al­low to ex­hibit on the premises.”

Anne Scan­lan, di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion at Life, said: “Life has on many oc­ca­sions been im­peded in its right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion on univer­sity cam­puses be­cause of the ac­tions of stu­dent unions some of which have adopted a proabor­tion pol­icy.

“We had at least two se­ri­ous con­fronta­tions with stu­dent unions at univer­sity fresh­ers’ fairs last year with threats by them to make us leave the premises if we didn’t re­move fe­tal mod­els which we had on dis­play.

“No univer­sity or in­sti­tu­tion on their cam­pus should be al­lowed to dis­crim­i­nate against pro­life stu­dents or pro­lif­ers in gen­eral. For too long, stu­dent unions have op­er­ated as a law unto them­selves. Whilst uni­ver­si­ties pro­vide lip service to the prin­ci­ple of free speech, on their cam­puses free speech is of­ten im­peded or bla­tantly vi­o­lated by stu­dent unions. When it hap­pens, uni­ver­si­ties re­move them­selves from any re­spon­si­bil­ity for this con­tra­dic­tory state of af­fairs. Last year our com­plaint to one univer­sity vice-chan­cel­lor about the way we were treated, re­ceived the re­sponse that this was a mat­ter that needed to be dealt with by the stu­dent union.

“We now call on the Of­fice for Stu­dents to give weight to its words by tak­ing ac­tion to en­sure stu­dent unions are not im­ped­ing free­dom of ex­pres­sion and univer­sity cam­puses re­main places of rig­or­ous and healthy de­bate.”

In a re­ply to the let­ter sent by Life, Ni­cola Dan­dridge, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Of­fice for Stu­dents, said the or­gan­i­sa­tion would be un­able to in­ter­vene.

It read: “Al­though we are not aware of the cir­cum­stances re­lat­ing to your spe­cific ap­pli­ca­tions to the Fresh­ers’ Fairs, it is OfS’s view that or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Life should be able to pub­li­cise its work and ser­vices to stu­dents. Our reg­u­la­tory re­spon­si­bil­i­ties ex­tend to uni­ver­si­ties and not stu­dents’ unions. From the in­for­ma­tion in your let­ter, it would ap­pear that your com­plaint re­lates to three stu­dents’ unions who re­jected your ap­pli­ca­tion to ex­hibit at their Fresh­ers’ Fairs. As stu­dents’ unions are gen­er­ally reg­u­lated by the Char­ity Com­mis­sion, we have no reg­u­la­tory re­mit to in­ter­vene in the cir­cum­stances you de­scribe at this stage.”

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