Independent Review of Freedom of Speech in Australian Higher Education Providers

On 14 November 2018, the Minister for Education the Hon Dan Tehan MP announced an independent review into freedom of speech in higher education, to be undertaken by the Hon Mr Robert French AC, former Chief Justice of the High Court Chief of Australia.

Mr French undertook the review on a cooperative and consultative basis, respecting the long held and valued institutional autonomy of Australia's universities.

The focus of the review was to assess the effectiveness of university policies and practices to address the requirements of the Higher Education Standards Framework to promote and protect freedom of expression and intellectual inquiry on Australian campuses.

Between November 2018 and March 2019, Mr French undertook a two-stage stakeholder consultation process seeking stakeholder views on the review Terms of Reference and a Draft Model Code. These stakeholders included all universities, student representative groups, higher education provider peak bodies and the national higher education regulator, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA).

Mr French considered and incorporated stakeholder views where appropriate in redrafting the Model Code.

Consultation on amendments to the Higher Education Support Act

The Australian Government has endorsed the amendments proposed to the Higher Education Standards Framework (the Standards) and the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA) recommended by the review. The proposed amendments will ensure that language used in the Standards and HESA is aligned with certain provisions of the French Review Model Code by replacing the existing term ‘free intellectual inquiry’ and referring instead to ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘academic freedom’. The amendments will also include a new definition of the term ‘academic freedom’ in HESA.

The Higher Education Standards Panel consulted stakeholders and provided advice to the Minister on the proposed amendments to the Standards in late 2019.

The Minister for Education now invites stakeholder comment on the proposed HESA amendments. Please email any comments you wish to contribute to HigherEd@education.gov.au by Monday 24 February 2020.

All feedback received during this consultation period will be considered when finalising the amendments to HESA.

Review report

The full report of the review is now available, along with the Minister's media release.

Stakeholder submissions are now available.

Terms of Reference

Terms of reference for the review, as set out in the Minister's media release of 14 November 2018, were to:

  • Assess the effectiveness of the Higher Education Standards Framework (the Standards) to promote and protect freedom of expression and freedom of intellectual inquiry in higher education.
  • Assess the effectiveness of the policies and practices to address the requirements of the Standards, to promote and protect freedom of expression and intellectual inquiry.
  • Assess international approaches to the promotion and protection of free expression and free intellectual inquiry in higher education settings, and consider whether any of these approaches would add to protections already in place in the Australian context.
  • Outline realistic and practical options that could be considered to better promote and protect freedom of expression and freedom of intellectual inquiry, including:
    • revision/clarification of the Standards
    • development of a sector-led code of conduct.

Contact details

Any queries regarding the review can be emailed to: HigherEd@education.gov.au.