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Sector roundtables on freedom of speech, academic freedom and good campus relations

16 Dec 2022 | Advance HE We publish a summary of the roundtables convened by Advance HE, Universities UK and GuildHE.

Five sector roundtables convened earlier in the year by Advance HE, Universities UK and GuildHE, explored academic freedom, employment, EDI, student unions and governance, leading to a joint sector statement and commitment to promoting academic freedom and freedom of speech.

The summary document we publish today outlines the key challenges and practical suggestions for action explored by the roundtables’ participants.

The summary notes that institutions have “a requirement to navigate the complex interaction” between existing free speech legislation (and, for English HEIs, the proposed Freedom of Speech Bill) with other legislation, such as the Equality Act, European Convention on Human Rights, employment law and the Prevent duty.

The discussions outlined how institutions may consider achieving this:

  • Consider how the sector statement on promoting academic freedom and free speech can be adopted, used or communicated across your institution
  • In consultation with staff and students, develop a whole institution approach to freedom of speech, outlining intentions, expectations, responsibilities and accountabilities
  • Review relevant policies and codes of practice, and clarify accountability for issues relating to freedom of speech to ensure effective scrutiny, and institutional management
  • Ensure EHRC guidance on the interaction between free speech and EDI in higher education is understood and used by relevant staff
  • Discuss issues relating to freedom of speech with students and staff, ensuring expectations of behaviour are clearly communicated
  • Consider how the executive and governing body are informed and equipped to provide effective scrutiny and direction of the institution’s approach to freedom of speech.

Conversations explored academic freedom and the potential tensions with equality, diversity and inclusion with a commitment to explicitly encourage diversity of ideas and perspectives and fostering good relations.

In meeting this, institutions might consider ways to:

  • Develop and communicate an approach to freedom of speech, academic freedom and EDI as complementary aims, aligned with institutional values
  • Set clear expectations that harassment, of any staff or student, won’t be tolerated
  • Clearly and regularly communicate institutional policy relating to freedom of speech and bullying and harassment, including processes for the investigation of complaints
  • Undertake specific activity to foster good relations between different groups, and ensure that all students and staff are made aware of expectations and responsibilities in relation to fostering good relations (for example, in codes of conduct).

The summary highlights recommendations in six other areas including ‘building a robust and inclusive culture of enquiry’ and ‘challenges around providing a ‘space’ for debates on crucial issues.

The full summary is available here.

Commenting on the summary, Alison Johns, Advance HE’s Chief Executive, said, “These discussions offer institutions constructive ideas for them to consider as they promote freedom of speech and academic freedom, while concurrently creating the inclusive institution where all voices are heard without fear or favour.”

Advance HE will publish a fully revised version of its ‘Good campus relations guidance’  next summer.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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