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History: Curriculum

Question for Department for Education

UIN HL9829, tabled on 2 November 2020

To ask Her Majesty's Government how those universities which receive public funding are accountable to the taxpayer for decisions about their curricula, including decisions on whether or not to decolonise the history curriculum.

Answered on

16 November 2020

As autonomous institutions, it is for universities to determine the content of their curricula, but they are also required by law to uphold freedom of speech and academic freedom.

These are fundamental principles in the English higher education sector, as recognised in the Higher Education and Research Act (2017), which allow academic staff and students freely to question and test received wisdom and put forward new ideas and opinions, even if they are controversial or unpopular. These principles are also enshrined in other legislation including the Education (No. 2) Act (1986), which applies in both England and Wales and in similar provisions specific to Scotland and Wales.

Higher education providers registered with the Office for Students (OfS) must comply with the ongoing registration condition to meet Public Interest Governance Principles. Principles I and VII relate to academic freedom and freedom of speech. Ongoing Registration Condition B1 also requires that all registered higher education providers must provide a high quality academic experience for all students. The OfS has the power to investigate, sanction, and ultimately deregister providers.

The government committed to strengthening academic freedom and free speech in universities in its 2019 manifesto, and we are considering a range of legislative and non-legislative options to achieve this.