OIA response to Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

Our response to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

As expected, the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill includes provisions that are relevant to our role and remit in respect of student complaints involving concerns about freedom of speech.

Following the earlier publication of the government’s policy paper, Higher education: free speech and academic freedom, we continued to discuss relevant elements of the proposals with government and others. We raised some issues, especially around clarity for students, and we are pleased that the government has listened to some of our concerns.

The Free Speech and Academic Freedom Director on the OfS Board will have a role in relation to individual complaints about freedom of speech, including those raised by students at OfS-registered higher education providers. Under the Bill students would be able to choose whether to pursue their concerns through the OfS Scheme or through our Scheme. We remain concerned that it may be difficult for students to make a fully informed decision about which route is best for their individual circumstances and that the complexity of arrangements is still likely to create confusion for students.

Ben Elger, Chief Executive said:

“We appreciate the government’s continuing engagement with us about our concerns around the elements of the Bill that relate to our role. We will work with government, the OfS and student and sector organisations on this as the Bill progresses through Parliament, to try to minimise the potential for confusion for students and complexity for higher education providers as well as any risk that students are disadvantaged in terms of access to remedy for their complaint.”

Felicity Mitchell, Independent Adjudicator said:

“As the ombuds service for student complaints about higher education providers, our role is to provide independent and impartial review of unresolved complaints about the bodies in our jurisdiction. That is different from the role of a regulator, and it is important that this distinction is maintained. It will be challenging to make sure that the Free Speech and Academic Freedom Director, whose role includes championing free speech, will also be in a position to fairly and impartially review complaints about freedom of speech.”


Notes to Editors

For further information please contact Sarah Liddell, Head of Leadership Office, mediarelations@oiahe.org.uk, 0118 959 9813.

  1. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA) is the independent student complaints ombuds service for higher education in England and Wales. We are the designated operator of the student complaints’ scheme under the Higher Education Act 2004 and are approved by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) as the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) body for higher education. We are a member of the Ombudsman Association.
  2. We have a wide remit to review student complaints on a broad range of issues about higher education providers in England and Wales, as set out in our Scheme Rules. Over 800 higher education providers are members of our Scheme.
  3. Our Scheme is free to students and has been designed to be accessible to all students, without the need for legal representation.
  4. You can find further information about the Scheme and our work at https://www.oiahe.org.uk/.