Freedom of speech

Changes to Registering with the OfS

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 received Royal Assent on 11 May 2023 although the majority of its provisions are not yet in force.

We are working with the Department for Education to implement this new legislation because the various provisions need to be commenced by secondary legislation.  

The implementation will be phased and we have set out some indicative timelines below.

About the new legislation

The new legislation will strengthen the legal requirements on universities and colleges in relation to free speech and academic freedom, and the OfS’s regulatory role.

Key features of the new legislation include:

  • A new duty on the OfS to promote the importance of freedom of speech within the law and academic freedom.
  • New OfS conditions of registration for universities and colleges relating to free speech and academic freedom. These include conditions requiring universities and colleges to comply with new free speech duties. This gives the OfS a direct role in determining whether universities and colleges are meeting those statutory duties.
  • New free speech duties, to include a duty for universities and colleges to promote freedom of speech.
  • An extension of the OfS’s regulation on free speech matters to apply directly to relevant students’ unions. (Here, ‘relevant students’ unions’ means students’ unions of universities and colleges in the OfS’s ‘approved (fee cap)’ registration category.)
  • Giving the OfS powers to monitor overseas funding received by universities or colleges and relevant students’ unions, with a view to assessing the extent to which that funding may present a risk to free speech and academic freedom.
  • A new complaints scheme, operated by the OfS, to consider free speech complaints about universities and colleges or relevant students’ unions, from students, staff or visiting speakers.
  • A new role of director for freedom of speech and academic freedom in the OfS, to champion free speech and to oversee the OfS’s functions in this area.
  • The introduction of a statutory tort for breach of the free speech duty. This will mean that individuals will be able to seek legal redress for any loss they have suffered because of a breach of the free speech duty.

Next steps

The first director for freedom of speech and academic freedom, Arif Ahmed, took up his post on 14 August 2023.  

We are working with the Department for Education to implement the remaining provisions of the new Act. 

We expect to consult on key elements, such as the new conditions of registration. This will give providers, their staff and students and other interested parties an opportunity to inform our approach.

Indicative timelines

We will take a phased approach to implementing our new regulatory approach. Indicative timelines are set out below.

We do not expect these to change although setting the commencement dates for the various provisions in the new legislation is a matter for the Department for Education.



Summer 2024

  • Publication of outcomes of the consultations on the new free speech complaints scheme and our approach to regulating students’ unions on free speech matters.
  • Publication of outcomes of the consultation on guidance on the new free speech duties.

1 August 2024

  • Publication of list of relevant students’ unions that are subject to OfS regulation on free speech and to the free speech complaints scheme. 
  • The new statutory duties on free speech for universities and colleges, and for relevant students’ unions, to come into force. 
  • Expected launch of the new OfS free speech complaints scheme.  
  • The functions of the OfS in relation to the regulation of students’ unions to come into force. 
  • The statutory tort on free speech to come into effect.

Autumn 2024

  • Publication of consultation on new free speech conditions of registration. 

1 September 2025

  • The new conditions of registration on free speech and academic freedom are expected to come into force. 
  • The provisions relating to OfS’s monitoring of overseas funding are expected to come into force. 

Where we consult on our approach to implementing these changes, we will publish those consultations on our website.

Published 13 September 2023
Last updated 26 March 2024
26 March 2024
We updated the indicative timeline now that our consultation on proposed regulatory advice and other matters relating to freedom of speech has been published.
14 March 2024
Updated indicative timeline

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