Next steps for implementation of free speech legislation

Arif Ahmed discusses the next steps in the OfS's work to implement new free speech legislation, including a further consultation launching soon.

I want to thank everyone who has engaged with us so far on our consultations on free speech. We had over 300 attendees from universities and colleges, their students’ unions and students at our webinars. I hope that everyone found these as useful as we did.

I understand the pressures on universities, colleges and relevant students’ unions to be ready by 1 August 2024, when we expect the new duties to come into force. I recognise the commitment many leadership teams have shown towards free speech and academic freedom. I know that there is support for free speech across the sector.

This is a commitment we share but we also recognise the need for care in developing our work in this space since legislation was passed last year. I understand that some will want us to go quicker but we must get this right.

Our consultation on the new free speech complaints scheme has now closed and we have started to analyse the responses. We will now reflect on these and listen to feedback in the development of our final approach.

There is still time to respond to the consultation on our approach to regulating students’ unions, which closes at 2359 on Sunday 17 March.

Respond to the consultation

Consultation on guidance and other freedom of speech matters 

As you may know from our recent blog, we expect to launch a third consultation by the end of March. This consultation will be on our proposed guidance on securing free speech within the law and on maintaining a free speech code of practice; the proposed revisions to the OfS’s regulatory framework to make reference to our new free speech functions; and our proposed approach to the recovery of costs related to the free speech complaints scheme and to the imposition of monetary penalties on students’ unions.  

The consultation period will be eight weeks so that we can finalise the guidance as soon as possible. We expect the proposed guidance to cover two broad areas: 

  1. Examples where a provider, constituent institution or students’ union may not have taken steps to secure free speech; and
  2. A non-exhaustive list of steps that it may be reasonably practicable for providers, constituent institutions and students’ unions to take to secure free speech within the law. This includes steps relating to the free speech code of practice.

Whether steps are ‘reasonably practicable’ for a provider, constituent institution or students’ union to take, is likely to depend on the individual circumstances of the case.

We are making sure the proposed guidance is clear that each case will be considered on its facts, and does not give the impression that we have pre-judged anything. As always, we are keen to receive feedback on our proposals. We will consider the responses to the consultation carefully and publish our final decisions as quickly as we can.

Next steps

We plan to hold consultation webinars, to give interested parties an opportunity to discuss and ask questions about our proposals. We will continue to engage closely with the sector, including students’ unions which will be newly regulated by the OfS, as we launch the new complaints scheme, and guidance, later this year.

I recognise there is a lot to think about and that this is time consuming and challenging. I encourage the sector to continue planning to comply with the new duties from 1 August 2024, when we expect them to come into force. This could include reviewing current policies and practices that are already in place, including existing free speech codes of practice as already required by current legislation.

We have also recently updated our website with an indicative timeline of the next phases of work in preparation for the new legislation over the next few months.


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Published 14 March 2024

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