Independent Review of Adoption of the Model Code on Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom

Adoption of the Model Code recommended by the Hon Robert French AC in his 2019 Review of Freedom of Speech in Australian Higher Education Providers, on a voluntary basis, is intended to ensure a culture of free speech and academic freedom is strongly embedded in institutions across the Australian higher education sector.

All Australian universities have agreed to implement the Code by the end of 2020.

The Minister for Education has asked Professor Sally Walker AM to review implementation of the Model Code by universities, to offer institutions with advice and suggestions on options to address any evident gaps in policies and to provide the Minister with advice on the overall alignment of relevant polices across the university sector with the principles of the Model Code.

Prof Walker’s advice is intended to help and support sector-wide adoption of and consistency with the principles of the Model Code, while acknowledging the autonomy of universities to adapt the Model Code to each institution’s particular context and circumstances.

Prof Walker will:

  1. Validate the alignment of universities’ suite of relevant policies with the principles of the Model Code on freedom of speech and academic freedom in higher education providers;
  2. Consider whether there are areas of particular strength or weakness in institutional responses and offer any suggestions to institutions where she considers alignment with the Model Code could be improved;
  3. Identify exemplars of particularly good practice that could be shared or promoted within the higher education sector;
  4. Provide advice to the Minister for Education on the overall alignment of universities policies with the principles of the Model Code and, if warranted, any suggestions on how the alignment could be further improved;
  5. Provide advice to the Minister for Education on whether the Code needs further refinement or change.

Prof Walker will complete her task and provide advice to the Minister for Education by November 2020.

Prof Walker was formerly Vice Chancellor of Deakin University. Prior to that, she was a practising lawyer and the Hearn Professor of Law at University of Melbourne where she was President of the Academic Board.

Prof Walker will be supported by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

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 proposed amendments 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.

Comments on the proposed HESA amendments were sought from all interested stakeholders by 24 February 2020. All feedback received during this consultation period will be considered when finalising the amendments to HESA.

French Review report

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

Stakeholder submissions are now available.

French Review 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 this page can be emailed to: HigherEd@dese.gov.au.