further & higher education

Promoting Free Speech Across Higher Education

further & higher education

08:45 - 15:30

Thursday 21 March 2019

Central London

Early Bird Discount Offer

10% off all advertised rates for a limited time only. Discount available to public / voluntary organisations only.


This Forum will provide attendees with a comprehensive understanding of how to protect, promote and safeguard freedom of speech within universities. Delegates will have the opportunity to discuss topical issues surrounding free speech regulations, guidelines and policies with key bodies from across the Higher Education sector. Moreover, delegates will learn about how best to ensure freedom of speech is upheld without compromising or undermining alternative statutory obligations around protecting students from violence, intimidation, discrimination, harassment and radicalisation.


This Forum is specifically designed for the Higher Education sector. Typical job titles will include:

  • Pro-Vice Chancellors
  • Deputy Vice Chancellors
  • Directors of Student Wellbeing
  • Student Union Presidents and Vice Presidents
  • Event Managers
  • University Secretaries
  • Senior Lecturers
  • Departmental Heads
  • Compliance Officers
  • Student Liaison Managers
  • Chief Operating Officers
  • Student Service Directors

This Forum is also open to Central Government and the Private Sector to encourage networking and debate.

Key Speakers Confirmed:
  • Michelle Russell, Director of Investigations, Monitoring and Enforcement, Charity Commission
  • Jeremy Lefroy MP, Member, Joint Committee on Human Rights
  • Stephanie Harris, Policy Analyst, Universities UK 
View the agenda and additional speakers


In March 2018, the Joint Committee on Human Rights conducted a report into the state of free speech in higher education institutions. Amongst other findings, the report concluded that there were a number of factors that risked undermining the principle of freedom of speech, including intimidatory behaviour by protestors, cumbersome bureaucracy imposed on event organisers, confusion over the Prevent duties, complicated guidance from the Charity Commission, and unnecessary regulatory complexity. The committee also flagged up “safe spaces” and “no-platforming” as problematic in the effort to uphold free speech across higher education. According to a 2017 survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), 76% of students expressed some support for no-platforming policies, while 60% felt that universities should never limit free speech. This exemplifies the confusion over how best to protect and promote free speech without breaking the law or compromising the safety and security of students.

In May 2018, Universities Minister Sam Gyimah called on higher education leaders to work together to create a unified set of guidelines to regulate free speech, commenting that the current situation is marked by a “dizzying variety of rules” which allows many universities and Student Unions to block discussion of controversial topics or unfashionable views. In an effort to remedy the situation, Mr Gymiah held a “free speech summit” with key sector partners in order to clarify the existing legal duties around free speech and develop new guidelines setting out core principles and expectations for higher education providers.

Furthermore, HEPI published a report in July 2018 entitled Cracking the code: A practical guide for university free speech policies, which highlighted loopholes in universities’ codes of conduct regarding free speech, and outlined practical advice on how the sector can act to improve protections of free speech on campus. Indeed, the Office for Student’s (OfS) regulatory framework includes a legal requirement for universities to have in place “robust and effective management and governance arrangements” to protect and promote freedom of speech, with powers to name, shame and fine institutions which fail in this statutory obligation.

However, universities must balance their free speech obligations with their statutory Prevent duties under the 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act. In September 2018, the OfS published its updated Prevent Duty: Framework for Monitoring, which adopts a revised risk-based approach to monitoring radicalisation in HE. This has to be undertaken alongside the safeguarding of free speech and expression, ensuring that any tensions between the two duties are minimised, without compromising the integrity of either.

In such a complex regulatory landscape, it is imperative that higher education institutions make a concerted effort to ensure that students, academics and invited speakers are afforded the ability to speak as freely as the law permits, whilst also strictly observing their Prevent duties. This will involve the cooperative development of a newly unified, clear, and holistic set of free speech guidelines which strikes the appropriate balance between free expression and protection from harm or radicalisation.


Registration, Refreshments and Networking


Chair's Welcome Address

Jonathan Grant, Director – The Policy Institute and Vice-Principal (Service), Kings College London (invited)


Morning Keynote: Assessing and Overcoming Threats to Free Speech on University Campuses

  • Detailing the core findings from the committee’s March 2018 report into Freedom of Speech in Universities
  • Highlighting how the HE sector can improve its policies and procedures to better protect freedom of speech and engender an institutional environment of openness, discussion and debate
  • Understanding how “no platforming” and “safe-space” policies are often used to stifle debate and promote a culture of intolerance and censorship
  • Urging the Charity Commission to make its guidance on free speech policies less complicated, cautious and unduly restrictive
  • Examining how best to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and regulatory complexity that can act as a burden on those organising events
  • Outlining the way forward with regards to protecting free speech at universities and ensuring open debate and discussion can flourish throughout higher education

Jeremy Lefroy MP, Member, Joint Committee on Human Rights (CONFIRMED)


Special Keynote: Exploring the Role of Student Unions in Facilitating and Promoting Free Speech

  • Responding to the Joint Committee on Human Rights report on Freedom of Speech in Universities
  • Reasserting the Commission’s commitment to the free exchange of views and the hosting of speakers with a range of perspectives, including those who might be controversial
  • Highlighting the importance of clear and robust free speech policies in enabling Student Unions to effectively pursue their educational charitable purposes
  • Providing appropriate guidance on free speech for Student Unions, particularly around managing activities or events on campus that may present higher risks in order to support them to go ahead
  • Ensuring Student Union trustees uphold free speech within the relevant legal parameters, safeguarding against activities that are illegal or in breach of equality or human rights law

Michelle Russell, Director of Investigations, Monitoring and Enforcement, Charity Commission (CONFIRMED)


Questions and Answers Session


Refreshments and Networking


Panel Session: Creating Effective, Balanced and Transparent Free Speech Policies

  • Exploring the critical elements of a robust free speech code in terms of format, content and processes
  • Maximising accessibility, transparency and clarity of free speech codes
  • Ensuring all relevant stakeholders are engaged in the process of creating and monitoring free speech policies
  • Making clear the remit of free speech codes
  • Avoiding policies which place undue burdens on invited speakers which might discourage them from attending events

Delegates will be able to submit live questions and discussion points to panellists on the day via the Sli.do mobile application 

Dr Jon Sharp, Director of Student Services, University of East Anglia (CONFIRMED)

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Chair – Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group and Pro Vice-Chancellor, University of Bristol (invited)

Joy Carter, Vice-Chancellor, University of Winchester (invited)


Case Study: Effectively Managing Events with Controversial Speakers to Uphold Free Speech

  • Sharing strategies around mitigating risks and ensuring public safety during the running of events hosting controversial speakers
  • Embedding mechanisms to ensure effective oversight of the management of events on and off campus, such as establishing a dedicated group with responsibility for reviewing risks and mitigating actions
  • Adopting a clear communication strategy which ensures all staff and students understand what constitutes a ‘designated event’, and how to seek advice when planning such activities
  • Having additional safeguards in place to identify higher risk events; reviewing and developing procedures relating to the Timetabling and Room Booking Unit and its Conference and Events team, both of which are trained in Prevent
  • Ensuring there is a clear escalation process for designated events, which are referred to the Chief Operating Officer or Director of Student Services in the first instance

Ian Fisher, University Secretary and Legal Officer, University of Central Lancashire (invited)


Questions and Answers Session


Lunch and Networking


Afternoon Keynote: Effectively Balancing Freedom of Speech with Other Duties

  • Developing guidance to helping universities strike the right balance between respecting their legal duty to protect free speech, and ensuring speech is lawful, compliant with equalities legislation and properly safeguards students
  • Working in tandem with the Department for Education and other HE regulatory bodies to ensure all universities are sufficiently equipped to deal with issues around protecting free speech, whilst effectively managing their other duties
  • Understanding that freedom of speech on university campuses also includes the right to protest; ensuring protests, when they occur, are well managed by events teams and robust systems are in place to uphold student and staff safety and wellbeing
  • Encouraging the OfS to work constructively with the sector to understand effective and proportionate monitoring, and to achieve greater consistency and clarity of institutional polices

Stephanie Harris, Policy Analyst, Universities UK (CONFIRMED)


Special Keynote: Placing the Student Interest at the Heart of the Free Speech Debate

  • Championing the interests and welfare of students in relation to the issue of free speech and expression at university
  • Working in collaboration with sector partners such as the Charity Commission, Office for Students, Universities UK, independentHE and GuildHE to develop a single, unified piece of guidance to bring together and clarify existing legal duties around free speech pertaining to universities and student unions
  • Providing an accessible channel of feedback for students to report incidents of intimidation which they feel limit their ability to speak and express themselves freely on campus
  • Critically evaluating how Prevent affects freedom of speech
  • Reconciling “no-platforming” policies with free speech obligations placed on student unions

Amatey Doku, Vice-President – Higher Education, National Union of Students (invited)


Questions and Answers Session


Refreshments and Networking


Closing Keynote: Developing Practical Recommendations to Optimise Free Speech Policies

  • Presenting Cracking the code: A practical guide for university free speech policies, a report published by the Higher Education Policy Institute in July 2018 analysing the free speech codes of conduct from 20 higher education providers
  • Evaluating the format, content and processes underpinning university free speech policies, and ascertaining which aspects work and which don’t
  • Analysing how the growth of digital communications add another dimension of complexity to developing comprehensive higher education free speech policies
  • Expanding upon the work done by the Joint Committee on Human Rights by presenting a set of practical recommendations to the sector to ensure future codes of practice are as simple, effective and user-friendly as possible

Dr Diana Beech, Policy Adviser for Higher Education to Sam Gyimah, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) (invited)


Questions and Answers Session


Chair's Summary and Close

*Programme subject to change

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