The Joint Committee on Human Rights found the discussion of unpopular and controversial ideas is being opposed on campuses across the country, with some attempting to shut down such debates rather than confront them.
Although the report found the idea of free speech is supported by most students, there was concern regarding high-profile incidents such as Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg becoming embroiled in a scuffle with protesters the University of West England in Bristol.
So-called “safe space” policies, which seek to create an environment in which students can express themselves without fear of harassment and discrimination, have also been questioned as they may restrict the expression of those with unpopular but perfectly legal views.
“Universities must be places where open and uncensored debate (within the law) can take place so students can think for themselves and develop their own opinions on ideas which may be unpopular, controversial or provocative,” the report said.
“However, the concept of safe spaces is either too broad or very vague and therefore we do not find it helpful. University is an environment where a range of opinions should be heard and explored. Minority views should not be barred from student union premises.”
The report advises the right to protest should not be used to halt events, and appeared to reference the incident involving Mr Rees-Mogg in its criticism of “masked protesters seeking to intimidate”.
Committee chairman Harriet Harman said the report showed there was a “problem of inhibition of free speech” at universities.
She added: “Freedom of speech within the law should mean just that – and it is vital in universities.”
Chris Hale, director of policy at Universities UK, has insisted campuses across the country are “absolutely committed” to ensuring free speech is not stifled.
“It is important that universities are well equipped to secure free speech within the law, while balancing this with other responsibilities such as the safety of students and staff,” he said.
“Universities must continue to be places where difficult topics are discussed and where people, however controversial their views, should be allowed to speak within the law, and their views challenged openly.”
The Charity Commission, which regulates student unions as registered charities, has been urged to review the guidance given by the report to ensure campuses help enable debate.
A spokesman said their existing guidance encouraged student unions to “legitimately challenge traditional boundaries, encourage the free exchange of views and host speakers with a range of views”.