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Speak Out: Exploring Protected Beliefs and Free Speech in UK Higher Education

Improve your understanding of protected beliefs and freedom of speech and academic freedom in higher education

The interplay between protected beliefs and freedom of speech is at the heart of Higher Education in the UK, a cornerstone of discourse and central to delivering an inclusive experience for students and staff. These fundamental principles can intersect in complex and contentious ways. Securing free speech and academic freedom on topics such as trans inclusion and gender critical feminism, or in relation to Israel/Gaza, whilst also preventing harassment, can pose a challenge for institutions.

Strengthen understanding and build confidence to ensure protected beliefs and freedom of speech are protected and promoted, from ‘classroom to boardroom’.

At this event, participants will have the opportunity to hear from experts on protected beliefs and freedom of speech in the higher education context. They will also have the opportunity to develop practical approaches to scenarios in interactive workshops.

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Why should you attend?

Benefits to institutions

  • Understand recent case law and legal developments relating to protected beliefs. 
  • A strengthened understanding of protected beliefs, rights of free speech and academic freedom and related legal duties in HE.
  • A clearer understanding of the present UK legal framework around unlawful discrimination and harassment.
  • Consideration of strategic approaches and policies and practical steps to promoting good relations.
  • Increased awareness of risks and mitigations. 

Benefits to individuals

  • Confidence from the understanding of protected beliefs, rights of free speech and academic freedom and navigating difficult circumstances that many managers are facing across the sector.
  • A space in which approaches to managing risk and navigating current and topical challenges in relation to best practice, case law and regulation can be explored.
  • Testing thinking and emergent approaches through challenge scenarios, building understanding and confidence.

Format of the event

This online event is an opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue, debate and reflection designed to strengthen understanding of the complexities of this terrain and build capacity to navigate the intersections of protected beliefs and freedom of speech. 

Participants will consider the key points from Advance HE’s Guidance on Protected Beliefs, hear from legal experts, and explore practical ways to navigate tensions between freedom or speech, academic freedom and protected beliefs through a range of realistic, challenging scenarios.

Outline of the day

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Who should attend?

This event is likely to be of interest to anyone who is managing or involved in issues relating to freedom of speech and protected beliefs in the learning and teaching environment, in student support services, in human resources/employment and to those with responsibility for shaping institutional EDI strategy and practice.


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Speak Out Programme



Smita Jamdar

Partner & Head of Education Shakespeare Martineau
Smita Jamdar
Smita is a Relationship Partner for Shakespeare Martineau’s education clients and advises on strategic, regulatory, constitutional, governance and student matters.

Dr Adam Dawkins

Deputy Academic Registrar (Student and Academic Governance)
University of Sunderland
Dr Adam Dawkins
Dr Adam Dawkins is Deputy Academic Registrar (Student and Academic Governance) at the University of Sunderland, having taken up this new role in February 2024. Prior to this, Adam was University Secretary at the University of York from 2019-early 2024 and has previously held senior governance roles since 2008 at Northumbria University and Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL). Adam was also Deputy Chair of Trustees at Liverpool Guild of Students (University of Liverpool), until the end of two four-year stints in July 2023.

David Bass

Director of EDI
Advance HE
David Bass
David leads the strategic development, planning and delivery of Advance HE’s programme for universities and colleges in Scotland. He brings a wealth of experience working with the Scottish sector, in governance as well as strategic planning and management, SFC Outcome Agreements, and equality and diversity.

Lucy Parker

Senior Consultant, EDI (freedom of speech)
Advance HE
Lucy Parker bio image
Lucy Parker is a Senior Consultant, EDI, at Advance HE and focuses on free speech and academic freedom. Her professional experience is in communications strategy, stakeholder, risk and issues management, policy development and analysis, as well as employee engagement.
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Related content

Protected beliefs and Good relations guidance documents

Navigating protected beliefs and free speech in higher education

We have published new guidance for UK higher education providers