Freedom of speech legislation will cost sector millions of pounds – DfE

An impact assessment compiled by the Department for Education says that the likely 10-year cost of the new legislation will be £48 million

New freedom of speech legislation that will affect higher education in England will cost universities and student unions millions of pounds, according to recently released estimates from the government.

An impact assessment of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) bill, which the government hopes to pass in the next 12 months, showed how much the Department for Education (DfE) expects the legislation to cost the sector, student groups and arms-length government bodies, particularly the Office for Students (OfS).

The DfE estimates that the 10-year combined cost of the legislation will amount to £48.1 million – with costs expected to vary between £43.7m and £52.6m.

The DfE predicts it will cost universities around £0.8m in the first year to self-assess governing documents to meet the new rules, with additional annual costs of around £0.2m to £0.3m. Strengthening and implementing the new freedom of speech codes will cost universities £1.8m in the first year, civil servants estimate, with ongoing annual costs of between £1.2 and £1.8m. The DfE also expects universities will spend between £1.7m and £1.9m per annum promoting freedom of speech, for example, through training sessions.

The legislation will have a greater impact on student unions than universities, with DfE reporting: “A large proportion of HEPs are deemed to already be meeting existing requirements around freedom of speech.”

For the 350 student unions (SU) in England, the DfE estimates a total cost of £0.6m for ‘familiarisation’, such as staff training, in the first year. SUs will also likely expend roughly £0.7m writing new codes of practice and £0.8m per annum implementing them.

The DfE expects that the new OfS director for freedom of speech and academic freedom would be paid a similar rate to the director for fair access, who earns around £230,000 annually, including salary, bonuses and pension costs. Their support team of between 5 and 10 would cost £0.4m. The scheme would cost the OfS between £0.5 to £0.8m to deliver annually. OfS costs will be passed on to universities via their registration fees, meant to fall 10% over two years, or via “‘other fees’ which the OfS can be empowered – through secondary legislation – to charge”. These costs are not included in the total impact assessment figure of £48.1m, as they are classed as “indirect costs”.


Read more: University freedom of speech director does not need legal training, suggests Office for Students

Long read: Is talk still cheap?

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