Universities should promote freedom of speech. Jo Johnson

"There's already a legal responsibility on the higher education industry to procure freedom of speech within the schools and law accept those responsibilities very seriously.  They've a responsibility, not only to secure liberty of speech, but also to guard the security of students and personnel.

"It is essential that universities do not turn into discussion-free zones.  They must continue to be places where difficult topics are discussed and in which people, however controversial their perspectives, should be allowed to speak within the legislation, and their views challenged publicly."

"This isn't always easy to balance, but universities are becoming increasingly more experienced in this area and have policies in place. 

Nearly 60 Oxford professors signed an open letter attacking Professor Biggar's perspectives but he has retained the backing of the university authorities, who say that he's right to consider the historic context of the British Empire.  Professor Biggar accused the professors of "collective online bullying".

Students should expect to experience controversial opinions and "frank and rigorous talks", the universities minister will argue.

Mr Johnson originally set out his ambitions in The Times at October after a few speakers were told that they were not welcome by groups of students.  

His defence open debate comes amid a row in Oxford University, where dozens of professors have hailed a professor for arguing that Britain's imperial history was not entirely shameful.  Nigel Biggar, regius professor of moral and pastoral theology in the university, has been criticised by colleagues and pupils after writing a post in The Times calling for a more nuanced appraisal.

Next year the recently established Office for Students (OfS) will be given the power to fine, suspend or deregister universities that fail to maintain free speech.

Faculties must "open minds, not close them" and face tough new penalties if they do not promote freedom of speech, Jo Johnson will warn today.

"Universities should be places that open minds, not near them, where ideas can be publicly contested," Mr Johnson says.  "In universities in the united states and worryingly in the UK, we have seen examples of groups trying to stifle those who do not agree with them.

Mr Tatchell said last year: "Some students appear more intent on political purity than building the wide alliances that are necessary for successful social influence.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "Universities are absolutely committed to promoting and securing free speech and will not allow legitimate speech to become stifled.

The OfS will also be able to hold universities to account and will have a range of steps if freedom of speech isn't upheld, such as formal sanctions like monetary penalties or deregistration in the regulator.

The OfS will become fully operational in April, with Nicola Dandridge because its chief executive.   The Department for Education is proposing that, as a condition of registration into the OfS, universities benefiting from public money should demonstrate that their governance is in agreement with the principle of free speech.

In a speech to be delivered in Birmingham at the Limmud Festival, a celebration of Jewish learning and culture, Mr Johnson lays out the dangers of shielding students from views that differ from their particular through "safe spaces" and "no-platforming".

"The NUS no-platform and safe space policies do not refute attacking ideas.  They just exclude them.  That doesn't solve anything.  The best way to overcome bad thoughts is by exposing and countering them in open discussion."

"We must not permit this to happen.  Young people should have the resilience and confidence to challenge controversial opinions and get involved in open, frank and rigorous discussions.  

Mr Johnson says that free speech must not be used as a smokescreen by people who wish to limit the rights of others.  Universities need to ensure, while protecting free speech, that pupils are not subjected to hatred or discrimination such as racism or antisemitism.  "A racist or antisemitic environment is by definition an illiberal one that is entirely in opposition to the liberal heritage of our universities," he says.