Still free to speak

September 3, 2004

Gamma minus for clear-headedness to the drafters of the Higher Education Act 2004 ("Union calls for strong watchdog", August ) on one or two additional points. They have neglected to repeal the Education Reform Act 1988, section 202. So, academic staff retain the right to exercise freedom of speech without adverse professional consequences. They also retain their right to be treated according to the principles of justice and fairness, which is taken away from other categories of university employee by those provisions of section 46 of the new Act that remove the avenue of recourse to the visitor if the university drives a coach and horses through its published procedures.

So, academics can presumably test in court whether they have a special right to a fair hearing, with universities spending public money trying to prove they have none.

There is a lacuna in the provision to exclude the visitorial jurisdiction in student matters, too. Complaints are excluded but not appeals (s.20). A student can probably still appeal to the visitor, on the grounds that a disciplinary process against him has been conducted unfairly or an inappropriate penalty imposed. A student penalised for plagiarism would not be making a complaint but an appeal if he asked the visitor to review the decision.

G. R. Evans
Cambridge

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