Students must challenge views

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Like most people, I make a point of claiming I don’t have many regrets in life. But that is the fattest of lies.

Ranging from the “if only I had listened to Big Pete and lumped a ton on the 3.15 at Kempton Park” to the “I wish I could grow a beard that doesn’t make me look like Timothy Claypole from Rentaghost”, my regrets tend to border on the edge of petty.

But, as time passes, I have tended to find that the strength of some of these regrets diminishes, none more so than the doubt which gnawed away at me for years – my decision not to go to university. I was the odd one out in many of my social circles when I took the bold decision not to spend three years of my formative years at former polytechnics. Instead I went down the vocational route into journalism. Deep down I was gripped with jealousy, not to mention a nagging feeling that I had made the wrong choice. As with many of you reading this, I have experienced some lows in my career, which had me considering whether or not I should belatedly dip my toe into the waters of higher education.

But I have now settled on the fact that it is unlikely I will ever get chance to don a cap and gown because I am not sure whether I would fit in. I expect our seats of learning to encourage fierce debate but student bodies are more likely to ‘no platform’ groups whose opinions they disagree with.

Such groups tend to be right wing and, while I abhor any form of extremism, the best way to deal with numpties is to challenge them. Cast your mind back eight years when former BNP leader Nick Griffin, pictured, was given a seat on the BBC’s Question Time, amid a storm of public outrage. The argument was that by giving Griffin and his goons the oxygen of publicity, it would only succeed in making them stronger. In reality, Griffin was humiliated and it is no coincidence that their core support fell away in the years after.

I am with universities minister Jo Johnson, who wants to fine institutions who bar speakers who their students disagree with. If we don’t teach our leaders of tomorrow how to challenge idiots with dodgy opinions, we could end up seriously regretting it.