University Alliance responds to OfS consultation on proposed regulatory advice

University Alliance has published their response to the Office for Students’ consultation on proposed regulatory advice and other matters relating to freedom of speech.


We welcome the principle of OfS developing guidance on freedom of speech with practical

However, UA members have not found the draft guidance as helpful as it could be. The
examples given seem manufactured and simplistic, lacking nuance. More importantly, they
do not adequately explore the intersection of free speech with other duties such as
preventing harassment and promoting good relations. Going forward, we call on the OfS to
work in partnership with representatives from higher education providers and students’
unions to co-produce more detailed case studies based on complex real-world situations.

We reiterate the need for the OfS to urgently provide clarity on how it understands free
speech ‘within the law’ in the context of transnational education (TNE).

We are also concerned that a number of elements in the regulatory advice are unduly
onerous for providers, notably those related to record keeping in the context of HR
processes, governance, training, and induction. These will impose a substantial cost on
providers at a time when many institutions are facing fundamental threats to their financial
sustainability, as highlighted recently by the OfS itself. More importantly, it is not clear that
they will serve to promote a culture of free speech. Ultimately, we believe the most effective
way for the OfS to enhance free speech in universities is to encourage an open dialogue that
enables staff and students to share information and seek advice from the regulator.

In addition, we have significant concerns about the implementation timescale. Given that the
duties and guidance are intended to come in force from 1 August, it is not clear how the OfS
will have time to meaningfully consider responses to this consultation (and the previous one,
on which the sector is still waiting) before publishing a finalised version of the guidance. This
will leave providers and students’ unions with extraordinarily little time to consider any
changes. We therefore strongly recommend delaying implementation if possible. If delaying
is not an option available to the OfS due to statutory requirements, we suggest that a lighttouch and phased approach to implementation is the most reasonable and fair approach in
the circumstances.

Finally, we agree with other sector bodies that an independent formal review of the free
speech complaints scheme should be undertaken after 12 months to ensure it is working
efficiently and effectively and does not have any unintended consequences.

See the full consultation response here.

Further reading