Clause 4 - General functions

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:30 pm ar 20 Medi 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Department for Education) (Higher and Further Education)

The Office for Students, as the regulator of the higher education sector in England, provides a valuable independent service that helps to ensure that our universities are institutions to be proud of. Universities have historically been centres of inquiry and intellectual debate and bastions of free thought from which new idea can emerge to challenge the current consensus. The OfS is therefore ideally positioned to positively impact on our universities. Our aim is to strengthen freedom of speech and academic freedom in higher education.

The clause strengthens and extends the current legislative framework on the duty of the OfS, enabling it to fulfil that role. The clause amends the general duties of the OfS in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 to include that, when performing its functions, it must have regard to

“the need to promote the importance of freedom of speech within the law” and

“to protect the academic freedom of academic staff at English higher education providers”.

The clause also inserts section 69A into the 2017 Act, with the provision that the OfS “must promote the importance” of freedom of speech and academic freedom in higher education. That is central to the Bill’s aim of changing the culture on campus so that freedom of speech can thrive. Section 69A sets outs provisions about OfS advice on good practice in relation to the promotion of freedom of speech and academic freedom, and gives the Secretary of State the power to require the OfS to report on freedom of speech and academic freedom matters.

I believe that the clause is essential to extending the general duties of the OfS to ensure the promotion and protection of freedom of speech and academic freedom within higher education. It is therefore a necessary and important part of the Bill.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

My only comment, which has been made throughout the debate, is about how much responsibility goes to the OfS and how much should remain with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education. We still have profound concerns about how the measures will work between the various bodies, but we will not divide the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.