Universities UK publishes guidance on external speakers in higher education 

  • Press Releases
  • Campus relations
22 Nov 2013

Universities UK published guidance today aimed at supporting universities in managing controversial external speakers on campus.

Building on Universities UK’s previous guidance on Freedom of speech on campus, the latest publication provides practical assistance for individual universities to review their existing approach to managing external speakers.

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “External speakers play an important role in university life, not least in terms of encouraging students to think for themselves, challenge other people’s views and develop their own opinions.

“Although most speakers are uncontroversial, some will express contentious, even inflammatory or offensive views. Universities have to balance their obligation to encourage free speech with their duties to ensure that the law is observed, the safety and security of staff, students and visitors secured, and good campus relations promoted. In practice, achieving this balance is not always easy.

“This practical guidance has been developed to ensure that as many external speaker events proceed as possible, both safely and within the law. Universities are already very experienced in managing such issues. We hope this guidance will be of assistance to them in enhancing these processes.

“The easy route would be to ban and boycott discussions on controversial subjects. But universities have a vital role to play in securing free speech and promoting debate.”

Key points:

  • The guidance will apply to a range of activities involving external speakers, including visiting lecturers invited by academic staff, religious and political representatives speaking on-campus and events such as debates, speeches and conferences taking place in university facilities that have been organised by staff, students and external bodies.
  • A number of the steps identified in the guidance will only apply to events or speakers deemed to be higher-risk.
  • The guidance seeks to map out the different factors that universities may wish to consider when drawing up policies and protocols for external speakers, reflecting both their legal obligations as well as highlighting how the law might apply in practice.
  • The guidance does not seek to prescribe a single model. Institutions vary according to their mission, demography, size, location and structure, and their processes for managing external speakers will vary accordingly.


1. This latest guidance builds on Universities UK’s 2011 publication Freedom of speech on campus: rights and responsibilities of UK universities which recommended that universities should ‘review current protocols/policies on speaker meetings to ensure they are up to date and relevant, and are aligned with the students’ union’s protocols and policies’.  Please find a copy of  External speakers in higher education attached.

2. The guidance will be of relevance to a range of university staff including those with overall responsibility for external speaker policies and those involved in the consideration of external speaker requests. This includes vice-chancellors, governing bodies of higher education institutions, academic registrars, heads of university security, heads of student services, university chaplains, equality and diversity officers, directors of estates and conference and event managers.


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