The Oxford skyline
Six individuals will receive honorary degrees from Oxford University at the Encaenia ceremony

Credit: University of Oxford Images / John Cairns Photography

Response to 'Public Statement on Proposed Amendments to University statutes'

(previously called 'Brief on Illiberal Amendments...)

The University is proposing amendments to its Statute XI on discipline, which will update and clarify policy on serious sexual misconduct. Contrary to misleading statements currently circulating, the changes do not affect free speech or the right to protest in any way. The new text reorders some of the existing clauses but does not create any new powers relating to lawful protest. These amendments have been widely consulted on for a number of years across the collegiate University, and also with Students’ Union and campaign group representatives. The statement below corrects several misrepresentations of these changes, particularly in an online document now titled 'Public Statement on Proposed Amendments to University statutes.'

The proposed changes to Statute XI follow years of consultation involving stakeholders across the collegiate University. They flow from Education Committee’s decision in Trinity term 2022 that the University should investigate cases of serious misconduct, including sexual misconduct, as a breach of University rules without usually expecting a complaint to be made to the police first, and are intended to update and clarify the University’s responsibilities in this respect.

This work involved consolidating several sets of Regulations and a lengthy Statute XI into a more concise and accessible single statute with a comprehensive procedure (as recommended by the OfS and OIA). It was initially carried out by an external barrister with subsequent review by a working group including representation from stakeholders and advisors including from a college, Conference, Student Welfare, Legal Services, the Proctors’ Office and Education Policy Support.

The changes align with the approach already adopted by most colleges as well the wider sector, as established through a comprehensive benchmarking exercise with comparator institutions in Michaelmas term 2022 and Hilary term 2023. They also meet the expectations of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator’s (OIA) 'Good Practice Framework', and prepare for incoming changes on how UK universities should deal with harassment.

As with all University activity, the University is subject to, and compliant with, UK law as well as its own policies in all its actions under Statute XI, including all legal rights of free speech, expression and protest, and the University’s own policy on free speech. The University takes its legal duties very seriously and fully recognises the complex legal framework within which its disciplinary code and procedures operate. This includes, of course, the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act as well as common law principles of natural justice and the obligations imposed on public bodies including of procedural fairness. Alongside and in addition to this, the University treats all members of its community fairly and with respect throughout any disciplinary investigation or process, in-line with the expectations of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

Safeguards include internal mechanisms for challenge, including routes of appeal and complaint, and the University is also of course subject to the over-sight of the OIA, the OfS and the Courts. The Proctors receive a briefing on the legal framework within which they operate at the beginning of their tenure and have access to legal advice when required. Under the University’s procedures they may only refer a matter for disciplinary action where an investigation has demonstrated that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the student has breached the Code of Discipline and where it is fair, just and reasonable to do so.

The proposed changes predate the forming of the OA4P encampment. While there is some re-ordering of existing clauses of Statute XI, the amendments do not create any fresh powers for the discipline of students relating to lawful protest.

The changes to the statutes concerning sexual misconduct have been under discussion since 2018. The decision, in principle, to investigate more cases of misconduct and the preparations to make this a reality were discussed and approved by several University committees including Student Wellbeing Subcommittee, Conference of Colleges Steering Group on Sexual Violence and Education Committee.

A consultation on the proposed changes was conducted in Hilary term 2024. This was facilitated by the Divisions and included the Equality and Diversity Unit and Conference of Colleges, including the Legal Panel working group who produced the college non-academic disciplinary template. The Students’ Union (Sabbatical Officer and campaign group representatives) were members of the working group and have been involved throughout: eg leading on a student survey as part of the drafting and consultation process.

Over 200 responses were received through the consultation, and overall the responses indicated good support for the proposals. The working group sought to address queries and points of concern, which led to many changes to improve and bring additional clarity to the documents that were ultimately recommended by Education Committee to General Purposes Committee, and then discussed in full at Council in Trinity term 2024.

The Public Sector Equality Duty was considered throughout this process. More specifically, within the University community it is clear that women are disproportionately impacted by harassment and sexual misconduct and this is likely also the case for individuals in the LGBTQ+ community and disabled students. Individuals with these protected characteristics are therefore more likely to be reporters of serious sexual misconduct.

The changes will allow more cases of serious sexual misconduct to be investigated by the University helping to eliminate discrimination and harassment. They will also advance equality of opportunity by reducing the disadvantages faced by those protected groups and helping to ensure that they feel safe in the Oxford community.