The pre-election period and the OfS consultations on freedom of speech, harassment and sexual misconduct

The Prime Minister’s decision to call a general election on 4 July has also triggered the pre-election period guidance for Government departments, civil servants and non-departmental public bodies issued by the Cabinet Office.  The OfS has confirmed that in following that guidance “We will not launch consultations, issue analysis reports, host public events, publish information about funding or issue guidance to higher education providers which constitutes new policy.”

The OfS does not specifically mention how this will impact the various consultations that it has launched on freedom of speech and harassment, which are now closed.  Before the election announcement, outcomes from these consultations had been expected imminently.  It now seems likely that the OfS consultation responses and final versions of its guidance, complaints scheme rules and proposed E6 condition of registration will be postponed until after the general election.  The timing is particularly unfortunate given that the updated freedom of speech duties and complaints scheme will come into force on 1 August.  Those subject to the new freedom of speech/academic freedom duties (the governing bodies of registered providers and constituent institutions, and regulated students unions) will need to continue their preparations for 1 August implementation.

The higher education sector has expressed concern amongst other things at the compliance burden indicated in both the draft OfS regulatory advice on freedom of speech and in relation to the proposed condition of registration E6.  It remains to be seen whether the OfS will make any changes to the final versions of the consultation proposals when these are published.  It is also to be hoped that the OfS will take appropriate account of the timing of publication of the final versions when considering any compliance issues after 1 August.

If your institution requires advice in relation to the above, please speak to your usual Mills & Reeve contact or a member of our education law team.

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