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15th February 2024

Students’ Union addresses new Freedom of Speech Act

The government’s new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act will come into force from 1 August 2024 and aims to be a provision for freedom of speech and academic freedom across universities and Students’ Unions
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Students’ Union addresses new Freedom of Speech Act
Credit: University of Manchester’s Students’ Union

The University of Manchester’s Students’ Union (UMSU) has released a statement on the government’s new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act, which comes into effect on August 1 2024.

The initial statement, published on February 4, has been followed by a second statement announcing a Freedom of Speech Consultation. The consultation will occur on Thursday, February 15 in Academy 2 from 6-8pm.

The act, which passed into law in May 2023, places new responsibilities on universities and Students’ Unions and aims to strengthen legislation on freedom of speech and academic freedom.

Students’ Unions now come under the direct jurisdiction of the Office for Students (OfS) and have to ‘take reasonable steps to secure freedom of speech for [their] members, staff and visiting speakers.”

The Government Education Hub outlines that the act places greater responsibility on “universities to ensure students are able to speak freely in and out of the classroom while offering more protection for academics who teach material that may offend some students.”

In their statement, the UMSU stated that the University’s Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech is a key way to set its commitment to freedom of speech.

The Code of Practice is currently being reviewed jointly by the University and the Students’ Union and will be shared with all students “at least once a year.”

Complaints against the Students’ Union or university will be made through the OfS free complaints scheme.


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