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Navigating protected beliefs and free speech in higher education

16 May 2024 | Advance HE Advance HE publishes new guidance for UK higher education providers

In an era where the balance between free speech and harassment is more important than ever, Advance HE has published timely guidance documents designed to support higher education institutions in the technical and nuanced work of securing the rights to freedom of speech, academic freedom, and protection from harassment for all staff and students.

This guidance draws on relevant legislation and recent case law and has been shaped by legal experts and a range of sector stakeholders, senior leaders and academics.   

Alison Johns, Chief Executive, Advance HE, said, “The guidance is important for higher education (HE) leaders and managers, particularly those overseeing equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), free speech, academic freedom and human resources, or involved in managing campus safety and student protests. It is also offers support for anyone in student-facing roles or those invested in fostering an environment of inclusion and open dialogue."

Key features of the guidance:

  • Policy development and decision making: Support to develop and implement policies that align with legal standards, and that any interventions in speech are likely to be justifiable and balanced.
  • Harassment vs. lawful speech: Gain clarity on distinguishing unlawful harassment from protected speech.
  • Learn from recent case law: lessons and implications for HE from recent landmark employment tribunal decisions, including the Phoenix and Miller cases. 
  • Reasonable actions: help ensure that the decisions made are fair and proportionate to the situation at hand.
  • Navigating complex legal challenges: Clarifies law where institutions often experience the most challenge, e.g. on gender critical feminism and trans inclusion, or in relation to protest on the Israel/Gaza conflict. 
  • Universal rights: Everyone has the right to lawfully express their beliefs and is entitled to protection from harassment.

Read the guidance materials:

Published in the links to both of the above are:

  • Freedom of speech in higher education: legal framework
  • Freedom of speech and academic freedom: activities and events checklist.

Read Alison John's blog published today by our colleagues at HEPI.

Supporting events

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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