Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

George Sullivan, Union Development Officer, The University of Nottingham Students’ Union (HEFSB15)

The Student’s Union position on the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

At The University Of Nottingham Student's Union we value, champion and uphold freedom of speech across our clubs and societies and actively encourage our student community to share ideas in a spirit of mutual respect and intellectual curiosity. As such, our response to the proposed bill is formed around the following themes which we'd like to outline in this short piece, alongside evidential data from UoNSU where appropriate:

External Speakers at UoNSU

Over the past year 798 event applications were submitted to the UoNSU. Of those 218 involved an external speaker, to which the freedom of speech bill directly refers. 4 of these events did not go ahead. 3 of which were rejected due to the proposed speaking event being held in person and contravening Covid guidelines. The remaining 1 (one) was an event held by the PPE society and was cancelled by mutual consent after strenuous efforts were taken to facilitate the event taking place. Indeed, in the past many events have been controversial and provoked protest, such as the presence of former Labour MP Chris Williamson on campus, but have gone ahead nonetheless (Impact Magazine, 2019).

Thought leaders

Speakers should be of the highest quality and have expertise in their field. Therefore, if speakers are known to have contradictory, erroneous or conspiratorial ideas on subjects for which they are speaking UoNSU is obliged to discourage the spread of disinformation on its premises and within its societies. Or as the University of Nottingham put it "It is not obliged to provide a platform to individuals who have no recognised expertise in a field of academic inquiry, nor does it have to provide speaking opportunities to those who wish to promote views that are manifestly at odds with empirically verifiable objective facts." (UoN, 2021)


The Government is in danger of overregulating an already heavily regulated sector. UoNSU is already obliged by its relationship with UoN, as an affiliated body, and the Charity Commission as a registered charity to host events to engage our students and uphold freedom of speech. Making the Office for Students an extra regulator is simply surplus to requirement. Challenging and controversial speakers will continue to speak on our campus as they have done in the past.

This bill addresses a non-problem at the University of Nottingham and UoNSU would like to take this opportunity to advise the government to focus on supporting the Higher education sector after the Coronavirus pandemic rather than spoiling for a fight with Universities and SUs in this farcical culture war.

Kind regards

George Sullivan, Union Development Officer at the University of Nottingham Student’s Union.

September 2021


Prepared 16th September 2021