University Secretary's Group

Academic freedom and freedom of expression

The University is committed to upholding freedom of expression, and facilitating an environment where all members of our community are able to inquire, study, and debate.

The right to freedom of expression in a University community sits alongside the related principle of academic freedom. Academic freedom means academics can express their opinions, question established ideas and develop new ones, and present controversial or unpopular points of view, without placing their employment at risk. 

The right to freedom of expression is relevant to the principle of academic freedom, because the exercise of academic freedom must be within the bounds of the law. In other words, if something is an unlawful exercise of the right of freedom of expression, it will not be lawful simply because it takes place in an academic context.  

The resources and guidance on this page set out in more detail the policies and procedures that apply to the exercise of these rights in our community. These will not provide answers to every question that arises in this area, but rather demonstrate the framework the University has put in place to address these important issues, and its clear commitment to upholding the rights of freedom of expression and academic freedom. 

Statement on freedom of expression

While exercising rights to freedom of expression, the University expects staff and students to do so in a manner that treats others with dignity and respect, and exercise such rights within the law.  As our Statement on Freedom of Expression notes, it is only through a community that engages freely in study, debate and open inquiry, supported by a culture of mutual respect, that the University can achieve its vision of being a place of transformation and self-improvement, driven to achieve benefit for individuals, communities, societies and our world.


Guidance for staff and students on the interaction of the University’s Dignity and Respect Policy with its obligations regarding academic freedom, freedom of expression, and related rights are available below:

Dignity and respect

The University recognises that ideas and viewpoints put forward by members of the University community, or external speakers, will often be in conflict with those of others. In all cases, however, the University expects all staff and students to engage in debate in a constructive manner that complies with our Dignity and Respect policy and applicable laws. These include regulations relating to harassment, discrimination and defamation. In particular, the right to protest against the expression of views should not prevent others from exercising their right to freedom of expression. In a University environment, debate and challenge should be widened, not narrowed.

Respect at Edinburgh

Dignity and Respect policy

Our legal duties

In parallel to, and balanced against, these rights of freedom of expression and academic freedom are legal duties on the University. These include the obligation to have regard to the prevention of individuals being drawn into terrorism, and to protect the health and safety of staff, students and visitors.

In order to consider these obligations within the broader framework of freedom of expression and academic freedom, the Policy on Speakers and Events provides guidance for staff on managing potentially controversial events, including consideration of how such events may be appropriately facilitated by the University Compliance Group. The University has also set out some (non-exhaustive) guidelines to outline what is acceptable and unacceptable conduct when organising or attending events on campus.

Policy on Speakers and Events

University Compliance Group terms of reference

Information about the University's Prevent duties

Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression Working Group

Ensuring respectful dialogue about controversial topics is an important goal for the University. To support this aim, an Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression Working Group has been established to identify how the University can best support academic freedom and freedom of expression across its staff and student community, and what actions we might take to ensure we continue to promote academic freedom and freedom of expression, aligned to rights within the law, and with dignity and mutual respect.

Supporting the objectives of the University’s Strategy 2030, four workstreams have been established, with the aim of identifying short, medium and longer-term actions:

  1. Engagement and Culture
  2. Education and Training
  3. Policies, Structures and Procedures
  4. Communication

The Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression Working Group will meet on a regular basis, aiming to develop an action plan for University Executive. Updates on progress will also be provided to the University community, as required.  The Group is convened by the Provost.

Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression Working Group – Terms of Reference

Additional resources

The Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005 section 26 (Academic Freedom) sets out the legal definition of academic freedom.

Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005 section 26 (Academic Freedom)

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission Scotland has also produced a Freedom of Expression Guide for the Higher Education sector.

Freedom of Expression Guide

FAQs have also been produced to answer questions and support conversations about the following event.