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Good Campus Relations and Freedom of Speech

Helping members to create inclusive institutions and improve campus relations between different groups, whilst supporting and protecting freedom of speech and academic freedom.

Freedom of speech, academic freedom and good relations continue to be high on the HE agenda as institutions make sense of the complex relations and perceived tensions between the three. In the UK HEIs also prepare for new legislation: (the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill introduces new responsibilities for English universities and is likely to impact indirectly on other UK institutions. 

A partnership project between Advance HE, UUK and Guild HE in 21/22 established high levels of interest across the HE institutions in strengthening resilience around freedom of speech, academic freedom and good relations.

The roundtable discussions led to a statement of commitment from the sector promoting and protecting academic freedom and free speech, co-signed by Advance HE, Universities UK, Committee of University Chairs (CUC), GuildHE and NUS Charity Higher education sector statement on promoting academic freedom and free speech.

We will continue to support our members to strengthen this commitment through work to explore how to promote Freedom of Speech and EDI together. Further work will include updating our ‘Promoting Good Relations on Campus’ guidance, developing training to support institutions in their work on good relations, freedom of speech and academic freedom, and convening a conversation to explore global issues and share innovative practice relating to freedom of speech.

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Promoting Freedom of Speech and Good Campus Relations Sector Roundtables

The project brought together senior leaders from a number of UK institutions for 5 roundtable conversations focusing on different perspectives:  

  • Academic freedom 

  • Employment and employment law 

  • Advancing of EDI and good relations – protection from harm and protection of freedom of speech 

  • Relationship with student unions 

  • Leadership, governance and regulation 

The roundtables enabled frank conversations, with a number of leaders acknowledging areas of vulnerability in relation to their institution’s preparedness to deal with issues relating to freedom of speech and good relations. Several common themes emerged throughout the different discussions: 

  • A welcoming of the shift from protecting free speech and academic freedom to a more active and visible promotion within the sector. 

  • A recognition of the need to create a culture where free speech and academic freedom co-exist with work to promote good campus relations and EDI initiatives, including zero tolerance towards bullying or harassment. Such agendas are inter-related but often perceived to sit in tension with one another.  

  • A recognition of the responsibility of institutions to equip and support students to encounter course content, discussions, or views that they may find challenging, offensive or unacceptable, and of the role and responsibility of institutional leaders to promote open dialogue across campuses, particularly when discussing controversial issues.  

  • Ongoing questions over legal landscape regarding free speech and academic freedom. The existing landscape is complex and, as such, there is often confusion when deciding how universities should navigate seemingly overlapping and / or competing duties. 

  • Varying levels of preparedness and confidence to deal with issues of freedom of speech across the sector. Some examples of action to introduce, develop, or strengthen initiatives which outline the importance of academic freedom and free speech to students and staff, but not in every institution.  

  • The need for further guidance to support institutions – and students’ unions – to manage issues relating to freedom of speech, academic freedom and good relations.

Key challenges, topics, recommendations and emerging practice from the roundtables have been collated into a short briefing paper.

Following the workshops, the project partners identified a number of possible outputs. The following will be developed by Advance HE as member benefits: 

  • A summary of the conversations from the roundtable conversations in the format of a ‘Challenges and Solutions’ checklist (UK member benefit) 

  • Refreshing our ‘Promoting Good Relations on Campus’ guidance (UK member benefit) 

  • Training to accompany the ‘Promoting Good Relations on Campus’ Guidance (UK member benefit) 

  • A webinar exploring global issues relating to freedom of speech and good relations and sharing innovative practice (international member benefit) 

Find out more about the roundtables
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Webinar - Building inclusive campus communities: Exploring good relations and freedom of speech

Thursday 15 June, 14:00 - 16:00 BST

Promoting an inclusive and respectful environment where students and staff from diverse backgrounds are encouraged to engage with and learn from one another is a key objective for universities around the world. Central to this are the promotion of good relations between different communities and the upholding of academic freedom and freedom of expression.

This webinar aimed to explore how HEIs can protect and promote diversity of thought, academic enquiry and freedom of expression whilst simultaneously fostering an environment of respect, support and inclusion for students and staff.

To achieve this, Advance HE Consultant, Robiu Salisu was joined by an expert panel to discuss how HEIs from across the globe are supporting good relations on campus and academic freedom as central building blocks. The panellists considered how their cultural contexts shape institutional approaches and strategies towards promoting open and respectful dialogue across diverse communities. They also provided participants with practical approaches and insights to inform and support the development of approaches that they can apply within their institutions.

Sorry, this event has now occurred.

Speakers include:

Dr Adam Dawkins

University Secretary
University of York
Dr Adam Dawkins
Dr Adam Dawkins is University Secretary at the University of York, and has previously held senior governance roles since 2008 at Northumbria University, Newcastle and Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL), having worked in the HE sector since first graduating in 1997.

Dr Amrita Mukherjee

Lecturer in Law
University of Leeds
Dr Amrita Mukherjee
Dr Amrita Mukherjee is a lecturer at the School of Law at the University of Leeds and a decolonising education academic lead for the University. She is currently the programme director for the LL.M in Global Governance and International Law and one of the associate editors for the International Journal of Human Rights.

Robiu Salisu

Senior Consultant, EDI
Advance HE
Photo of Advance HE consultant, Robiu Salisu
Robiu Salisu is a Senior Consultant, EDI at Advance HE and has demonstrable experience in delivering training and insights on a variety of topics including; Belonging, Inclusive Leadership, Student-Staff Engagement and Partnership, Freedom of Speech and Community Cohesion.

Dr Sfiso Benard Nxumalo

Lecturer in Law
University of Oxford
Dr Sfiso Benard Nxumalo
Dr Sfiso Benard Nxumalo is a lecturer and a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) in Law Candidate at the Faculty of Law at Oxford University. He holds a Bachelor of Civil Laws (BCL) from the University of Oxford and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of the Witwatersrand. His research for the DPhil concerns the philosophical purviews of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights and African Legal Theory.

Dr Travis York

Director of Inclusive STEMM Ecosystems for Equity & Diversity
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Travis York
Dr Travis York is the director of Inclusive STEMM Ecosystems for Equity & Diversity (ISEED) at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Dr York’s research and work focus on catalysing and sustaining systemic change and transformation to achieve inclusive and equitable STEMM talent development.
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Freedom of speech in higher education: podcast

In this podcast, Advance HE's Director of EDI, David Bass and Adam Dawkins from the University of York discuss the challenges around freedom of speech, academic freedom and EDI and the complexities surrounding this within the context of the UK government's new Freedom of Speech bill.

Listen to the discussion
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Member Projects are part of Advance HE's member benefits for the 2022-23 membership year. Click below to see the full range of benefits available.

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