Academic freedom and freedom of speech

Find out about our commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech.

Promoting our values

Academic freedom and freedom of speech are fundamental to higher education and research. They allow for the exchange, within the law, of diverse beliefs, theories, and opinions, and play a central role in innovation and discovery. They ensure that different voices are heard in debate and discussion, and they facilitate inquiry and study in a range of areas that are sometimes complex and controversial.

The University of Sussex values inclusivity, courage, kindness, integrity, and collaboration in all that we do. We are committed to promoting academic freedom and freedom of speech through providing an environment for the peaceful exchange of diverse viewpoints that can be scrutinised and explored with civility.

Sasha Roseneil, University of Sussex Vice-Chancellor and President, says: “All universities, and Sussex in particular, are places where established ideas and knowledge are challenged and reworked. And because the best ideas, the strongest concepts, and the most impactful research findings are those that have been subject to rigorous challenge, universities need to be inquisitive environments. Their curricula and cultures have to support and facilitate the contestation of conventional wisdom, and the pursuit of novel, sometimes unpopular, even disturbing, lines of inquiry.

"As institutions dedicated to education, universities are places of encounter with new, and often difficult, ideas, through which identity, character, and worldview change and develop. As such, they provide a wide range of disciplined training in methods of investigation, interrogation, and debate that equip graduates with essential life and citizenship skills, as well as offering more informal spaces for students to explore politics, culture, and social relationships, in which emergent critiques of the status quo and visions of the future can be forged.”

Academic freedom

The University of Sussex is committed to the delivery of its charitable objectives, which are set out in our founding Charter. Our Statutes commit us to ensuring that academic staff have freedom, within the law, to carry out teaching and research, including the publication of the outcomes of research, in a way which questions and tests established ideas and received wisdom, and presents controversial or unpopular points of view, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges.

Freedom of speech and expression

The University takes steps to ensure that lawful freedom of speech and expression is secured for all staff and students and for visiting speakers. Freedom of expression applies not only to information, ideas or works of art that are favourably received, but also to those that offend, shock, or disturb.

We will also uphold the right of any member of staff to express political, religious, social, and professional views, both privately and in public, provided that this is within the law and is done explicitly in their own name and not in that of the University.

Allowing opposing views to be heard is encouraged by the University, with appropriate and timely risk assessments undertaken as required. As part of this, we have a Code of Practice and External Speakers’ Procedure for the organisation of meetings and other events on University premises.

Freedom of speech is not an absolute right. There is a legal framework within which the University must operate, whilst securing both freedom of speech and academic freedom. This includes having regard to laws that govern public order.

Legislation in respect of academic freedom and freedom of speech

The University is subject to various pieces of legislation in respect of academic freedom and freedom of speech, including Article 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, section 43 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 and section 202 of the Education Reform Act 1988.

As a registered Higher Education institution, the University is required to comply with the regulatory regime operated by the Office for Students (OfS). The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 sets out the regulatory regime operated by the OfS as a condition of registration with the OfS, universities are expected to adhere to a list of Public Interest Governance Principles. These include both academic freedom (academic staff at an English higher education provider have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom; and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at the provider) and freedom of speech (the governing body takes such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured within the provider).

As of 11 May 2023 the University is also subject to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023 which strengthens the duties regarding freedom of speech imposed by section 43 of Education (No.2) Act 1986 and creates a new duty for higher education providers to promote the importance of lawful freedom of speech and academic freedom in the provision of higher education.

How the University monitors compliance

The University monitors compliance with all of the public interest principles through a sub-committee of Council, which annually receives a compliance report for review, and provides assurance to Council

Senate, as the senior academic body of the University (and subject to the general control and approval of Council), is responsible for academic standards and the direction and regulation of academic matters, with a clear responsibility for upholding and promoting free speech and academic freedom.

Professor David Ruebain, the Pro Vice-Chancellor for Culture, Equality, and Inclusion, is the University’s Free Speech Officer, and provides oversight of academic freedom and freedom of speech within the life and operation of the University.

How we support academic freedom and freedom of speech

  • Video transcript

    Hello. My name is David Ruebain. I'm the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Culture, Equality and Inclusion. I'd like to talk about the University's obligations and how we support and enable freedom of speech and expression, and also academic freedom.

    This is especially important to us as we are committed to providing an environment for the peaceful exchange of diverse viewpoints that can be scrutinised and explored with civility.

    You may know that universities have specific legal obligations in these areas, and I'm going to say something about those. But as a starting point, I wanted to stress that for all universities, freedom of speech, diversity of thought, the ability to inquire and to research and to follow the evidence and to create is critical and foundational.

    And it's the basis upon which much progress, indeed, all progress has happened over the years and centuries. So for universities, including Sussex, these are issues which we take very seriously and are important to our work going forward.

    I mentioned the legal framework. There is a detailed legal framework which covers our obligations.

    They are contained in the Education Number Two Act 1986, the Education Reform Act 1988, and the Human Rights Act 1998. And indeed forthcoming legislation which is being piloted through Parliament at the moment in the form of the Higher Education Freedom of Speech Bill.

    In summary, we have a variety of requirements to ensure freedom of expression and freedom of speech within the law is secured for those in our community, for our members, our students and employees, and indeed visiting speakers.

    Our Freedom of Speech Code of Practice guides our community on this. And I have specific oversight responsibilities as the Free Speech Officer, along with Council and Senate, our most senior governance bodies within the University.

    We are also required to ensure that academic staff in the University have the right to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas, including controversial or unpopular opinions, without fear of being sanctioned for doing so, as long as the law is not broken. And this right is, in fact, enshrined in our University statutes, which ensures that freedom of speech and academic freedom are at the heart of our work here at Sussex.

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