Poll Backs More Freedom at New Zealand Universities

A new poll by the NZ Free Speech Union, conducted by Curia Market Research, shows support for funding universities based on their support for free speech.

A poll has found that most New Zealanders would support government funding of universities if they uphold academic freedom.

Commissioned by the NZ Free Speech Union and conducted by Curia Market Research, it shows that 53 percent support the idea, while 19 percent oppose it.

The question put to respondents was: “Do you think government funding should be partially contingent on how well a university does in upholding academic freedom?”

The result is consistent with a poll last year which showed 75 percent of New Zealanders believe free speech is “a defining cultural value” and that a majority believe it is under threat, said the Free Speech Union’s Chief Executive Jonathan Ayling.

“The government’s policy to withdraw funding from universities that fail in their core duties to defend the rights of academics to academic freedom is not only necessary to restore free speech in New Zealand; it’s a policy a majority support,” he said.

The policy was a coalition concession to the ACT Party, which took it to the election, and will be implemented amending the Education and Training Act so that “tertiary education providers receiving taxpayer funding must commit to a free speech policy.”“Academic freedom in New Zealand is under serious threat,” Mr Ayling said. “The simple saga of Victoria University trying to host a panel discussion on free speech is just one example of many that illustrate this point.”

The University was forced to postpone plans for a freedom of speech debate after outcry over what some saw as a lack of diversity and the presence of right-leanings panellists, including Mr. Ayling.

The University’s vice-chancellor, Nic Smith, said the debate’s line-up had been expanded to include a “very balanced panel” with the addition of a Māori political commentator, rainbow community and inclusivity advocate, and additional academic speakers.

“There are those within the university who are ideologically opposed to the basic freedoms that have led to the very function and flourishing of the university,” Mr. Ayling said. “If free speech and academic freedom are not maintained in universities, what is the point of the university? It’s indoctrination, not education.

“The Free Speech Union’s recently launched profession-specific membership for academics is just one response we are leading to restore academic freedom in Kiwi universities, and free speech for the tens of thousands of young New Zealanders who pursue tertiary education to learn how to think, not be told what to think,” he said.


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