University Alliance responds to the Office for Students’ free speech complaints scheme consultation

University Alliance has published their response to the Office for Students’ consultation on their free speech complaints scheme.


The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 requires the Office for Students (OfS) to operate a free speech complaints scheme. It is imperative that this new scheme runs as effectively and efficiently as possible, ensuring a transparent, fair, and objective process for both complainants and respondents and good value for taxpayers. In our consultation submission, University Alliance highlights several areas where members believe more detailed information is required to understand how the scheme will work in practice, including:

We have made a number of recommendations to improve the workability and overall fairness of the scheme, including:

  1. There should be a requirement for any formal processes for inviting speakers to have been followed by higher education providers or students’ unions. There should also be a parallel requirement for these processes to be made as simple, streamlined, and burden-free as possible, with the OfS issuing guidance on what is reasonable after consulting with providers and students’ unions.
  2. The scheme should not have extraterritorial application, i.e. it should not apply outside of the UK.
  3. There should be a requirement for a complainant to go through the provider’s internal complaints process in the first instance. A claim to the OfS’s complaints scheme should be submitted only after that process has formally concluded and they are unhappy with the outcome.
  4. A complainant should only be able to access the OfS’ complaints scheme after 90 calendar days have passed since they submitted a complaint to the provider’s internal complaints process. This is in line with the requirements of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator’s (OIA) complaints scheme.
  5. There should be a 12-month deadline for the submission of complaints to the OfS. This period should begin when a complainant has completed the provider’s internal complaints process, in line with the OIA’s complaints scheme.
  6. There should be a requirement for the OfS to seek representations from the respondent on the complaint in all cases. This will allow the respondent to provide a counter case and to make any factual corrections about the evidence provided by the complainant, in line with the laws of natural justice. The respondent should always be given the opportunity to make representations before the OfS makes a final decision.
  7. Any advertising requirements for the OfS’s free speech complaints scheme should mirror those for the OIA’s complaints scheme. Providers should be required to clearly signpost information about both schemes to staff and students, but they should have the discretion to determine how best to achieve this.
  8. The OfS should not have the power to recover its costs from providers.
  9. The OfS should not publish specific information on any complaints under any circumstances. It should, however, publish detailed statistics about complaints as well as a selection of anonymous case summaries to improve understanding and practice.
  10. An independent review of the scheme should be undertaken after 12 months to ensure it is working efficiently and effectively.

See the full consultation response here.

Further reading