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University “moves away” from flags in cultural celebrations

A UK university has taken the deliberate step to remove maps and flags from its cultural activities on campus over fears they create barriers to student integration.

by Tunae

A UK university has banned flags as part of its cultural celebrations on campus. Image: PexelsGeopolitical conflicts have created tensions on campus around the use of flags at cultural celebrations. Image: Pexels
NTU was one of the first institutions to pioneer the ‘global lounge’ spaces that are now commonplace

The move comes as freedom of speech and expression on campus has come under intense scrutiny in recent times, amid student and academic responses to conflicts such as the Israel-Hamas and Russian-Ukraine wars.

Changes to the law, due to come into effect in August 2024, will allow individuals to be able to seek financial compensation if they are able to prove their right to freedom of speech was breached by a university or students’ union.

“Our global week is a celebration of cultural diversity,” explained Stephen Williams, director global at Nottingham Trent University.

“As diversity is neither defined by, nor confined to, countries or nationalities, we have intentionally moved away from displays of maps and flags during the week.

“We instead encourage students to challenge perceptions of culture belonging within borders and focus on how our similarities and differences truly enrich the cultural diversity of our community.”

NTU was one of the first institutions to pioneer the ‘global lounge’ spaces that are now commonplace across UK campuses.

The university’s global week celebrations feature over 86 cultural showcases curated by students, across four campuses, generating 3,000 interactions with students participating in fairs and workshops – all delivered without a flag in sight.

“Just as our international students need to change in order to integrate during their time at NTU, so do our UK students and our colleagues as part of this process of mutual accommodation,” continued Stephens.

“Creating safe spaces for mixing and open conversations and ensuring that everyone feels welcome and valued both inside and outside the classroom are essential in supporting the integration process.

“In our opinion, understanding and celebrating what we have in common is as important as recognising differences.”

Dibyesh Anand, deputy vice chancellor for global engagement at the University of Westminster, spoke to The PIE about navigating the current climate of conflict and identity on campus.

“Universities must be spaces where multiple voices and perspectives flourish so long as they are within law and institutional code of conduct,” said Anand.

“Accepting a basic principle that universities have to encourage plurality without policing legitimate, even if uncomfortable, views will help the sector navigate the politically contested terrain of academic freedom and duty of care.

“Universities don’t have blanket policies to avoid topics relating to conflicts. In fact, members of universities, including academics and students, often organise discussions on subjects that will have opposing viewpoints.

“To create this space, each member ought to be reminded that academic freedom does not mean only freedom for their viewpoint alone but all views within law.

“Universities need to have robust mechanisms to avoid being swayed from majority and loud voices in the name of respect for democratic voices, because democratic values include respect for majority, minorities and dissent – all,” he said.

“We have intentionally moved away from displays of maps and flags”

Polarising views and prejudices of antisemitism and Islamophobia are being inflamed across society and university campuses play a central role in exploring different cultural views in a safe space.

In the US, the University of Pennsylvania’s president was forced to resigned after criticism of her testimony to Congress about antisemitism on campus. The same fate was met by Harvard president, Claudine Gay.

Academic colleagues in the country have expressed continued ‘alarm’ at the levels of constraint be placed on student protests and expression.

“We have no restrictions on flags being used at student or university events,” continued Anand.

“The UK higher education sector has a strong emphasis on being global and this will imply students and colleagues, sometimes, use national flags as expression of their identity.

“As a sector, we have to avoid a culture of restriction because one or the other country’s flag may be seen as offensive by others. Temporary restrictions may be warranted but as a principle, we ought to support a culture of tolerance, if not acceptance,” Anand added.

Have flags become a source of tension on your university campus? Do you think restricting use impacts freedom or is a constructive way to foster integration? Have your say by emailing

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