Following yesterday’s Queen’s Speech setting out the Government’s new programme of legislation, a new Bill received its first reading in the House of Commons today on freedom of speech in English higher education institutions.
There is already legislation dating back to 1986 which specifically requires the governing bodies of higher education institutions to secure freedom of speech within the law for staff, students and visiting speakers.
The draft legislation will need to be examined carefully but it is anticipated that the new duty will require higher education institutions to “promote” freedom of speech.
The statutory duty will apply to higher education providers which are registered with the Office for Students (OfS). The OfS has a range of enforcement powers.
It is also being proposed by the Government that there is to be a new Director for Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom who will sit on the OfS Board and have powers of investigation.
It is anticipated that the new statutory duty will also apply to students unions which are, generally speaking, constitutionally distinct from the higher education institutions themselves and not directly regulated by the Office for Students.