Freedom of speech

It enables the pursuit of knowledge. It helps us approach truth. It allows students, teachers and researchers to become better acquainted with the variety of beliefs, theories and opinions in the world. Recognising the vital importance of free expression for the life of the mind, a university may make rules concerning the conduct of debate but should never prevent speech that is lawful.

Inevitably, this will mean that members of the University are confronted with views that some find unsettling, extreme or offensive. The University must therefore foster freedom of expression within a framework of robust civility. Not all theories deserve equal respect. A university values expertise and intellectual achievement as well as openness. But, within the bounds set by law, all voices or views which any member of our community considers relevant should be given the chance of a hearing. Wherever possible, they should also be exposed to evidence, questioning and argument. As an integral part of this commitment to freedom of expression, we will take steps to ensure that all such exchanges happen peacefully. With appropriate regulation of the time, place and manner of events, neither speakers nor listeners should have any reasonable grounds to feel intimidated or censored.

It is this understanding of the central importance and specific roles of free speech in a university that underlies the detailed procedures of the University of Oxford.




New Freedom of Speech legislation 

The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act brings new requirements to universities, with most provisions coming into force from 1 August 2024. 

After a collegiate University-wide consultation, and In line with requirements included in the Act, the University has now published: 

The new Code reflects the statement above, and amalgamates and replaces the University’s Code of Practice on Meetings and Events, whilst also covering topics required by the new legislation.  It does not change the University’s pre-existing position that freedom of speech and academic freedom are central tenets of university life and must be robustly protected.

There will be a review of these documents later in 2024, once final regulatory guidance is published by the Office for Students. More information for members of the University is available on the Staff Gateway.