Universities must protect free speech and “open minds, not close them”, Universities Minister Jo Johnson said in a speech in Birmingham on Tuesday.
Johnson said “no-platforming”, the policy of banning controversial speakers, is stifling debate.
Currently the National Union of Students bans several right-wing groups along with the Muslim groups Al Muhajiroun (now banned), Hizb ut-Tahrir and MPACUK.
In his speech Mr Johnson said: “In universities in America and worryingly in the UK, we have seen examples of groups seeking to stifle those who do not agree with them.
“We must not allow this to happen. Young people should have the resilience and confidence to challenge controversial opinions and take part in open, frank and rigorous discussions.”
A spokesman for MPACUK, Imran Shah, welcomed Johnson’s comments.
He said: “This is good news because it’s making sure that universities are there to be open, free spaces. After many years of Prevent where universities had to be monitored, events being cancelled and speakers being censored we are now getting some rhetoric from the government stating the opposite.
”But it does make me slightly suspicious why they are saying this because before the last election a lot of students did rally around Jeremy Corbyn and an anti-racist, anti-Islamopbia, anti-war platform that hurt the Tories so maybe that’s why they are reacting in this way.”
From next April, a new regulator – the Office for Students – will have the power to fine universities that fail to uphold free speech.
Universities UK has said it will not allow legitimate debate to be stifled.
Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis said: “There is already a legal duty on the higher education sector to secure free speech within the law and universities take these responsibilities very seriously.”
He added that institutions also had a duty of care to the “safety of students and staff”.