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Equality Charters and Freedom of Speech consultation

Shaping how we consider to more explicitly embed freedom of speech and academic freedom in Athena Swan and the Race Equality Charters.

Advance HE sought expressions of interest to input into a consultation to understand how freedom of speech and academic freedom can be more explicitly embedded in the Athena Swan and Race Equality Charters. 

Update to the Charters

In response to the consultation, Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech are now explicitly referenced in the Charters, and Advance HE has published new guidance for institutions. This provides a mechanism to support universities so that Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom can be appropriately considered and embedded through the Charters.


Universities have a significant role to play in championing freedom of speech and academic freedom within their institutions, and the promotion of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and good relations between different groups. In doing so, universities strive to foster an environment of mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance and to create an environment that encourages the free exchange of lawful ideas and perspectives, while also promoting fairness and equality for all. 

The sector’s efforts in this area are particularly in the spotlight in the context of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill which will have direct implications for universities and colleges in England and will likely influence how institutions approach freedom of speech, academic freedom and good relations in other parts of the UK. 

In the spring of 2022 Advance HE, Universities UK and GuildHE worked together to convene a series of roundtable conversations with senior leaders, thematic experts and academics from UK HE institutions. The five sector roundtables covered a series of relevant topics: academic freedom, employment, EDI, student unions and governance. The discussions revealed a number of areas that require close consideration and began to generate debate as to what institutions could consider in developing policy and taking practical action

Find the summary of roundtables

The roundtables resulted in a joint sector statement and commitment by UUK, GuildHE, Advance HE, NUS and CUC to promoting academic freedom and freedom of speech, shared in December 2022. Read the statement.

The roundtable outcomes were summarised in a report, Freedom of speech, academic freedom and good campus relations – A summary of 2022 sector roundtables

We are currently running a project, ‘Good Campus Relations and Freedom of Speech’, which includes a podcast.

Freedom of Speech and Equality Charters 

There is no legal inconsistency or challenge in signing up for Athena Swan or the Race Equality Charter and an institution’s commitments to free speech or an academic’s freedom to research, debate or teach in relation to these topics.   

There has been increasing interest in how institutions can ensure that their EDI activity – and their Equality Charters work in particular – positively aligns with and supports their efforts in promoting freedom of speech and academic freedom.  

Advance HE’s Equality Charters are member-led frameworks, shaped by and accountable to the member institutions which commit to the shared principles of gender and race equality and we are keen that the sector has an opportunity to shape how our approach and guidance in this area.  

To better shape our work and guidance in this area, and inform how Freedom of Speech is considered and embedded in the Charters, we undertook a consultation with the sector. Part of this consultation included taking legal advice on Charter requirements related to new legislation and regulatory requirements. We also engaged with key relevant sector networks, and offered a short survey so that everyone interested in this topic is able to share their views. An important part of the process was a series of roundtable discussions with sector stakeholders.

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Roundtable discussions 

Advance HE facilitated a series of roundtable discussions between May and July 2023 to explore how freedom of speech and academic freedom can best be supported by the Athena Swan and Race Equality Charters. The events were of of primary interest to Vice-Chancellors, university administrators, Charters and EDI practitioners, and any other colleagues who have oversight and responsibility for their institution’s EDI and/or freedom of speech activity. The feedback captured at this event informed Advance HE’s approach to supporting members in considering and embedding freedom of speech and academic freedom in relation to the Equality Charters.  

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We created a short survey to capture feedback on freedom of speech and academic freedom in relation to the Equality Charters.

Equality Charters and Freedom of Speech consultation is closed.