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Parliament supports NDA ban in universities for cases of assault, harassment, and misconduct

Last week, both houses of Parliament agreed on an amendment to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill which will ban the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) by universities and their constituent colleges in cases of assault, harassment or misconduct. 

This comes after Oxford colleges came under particular pressure to sign onto a pledge promising not to deploy NDAs in cases involving misconduct after it was revealed in April 2022 by The Times that Lady Margaret Hall (LMH) had told a student they risked expulsion if they discussed their alleged sexual assault with the media. LMH signed the anti-NDA pledge in May 2022, followed by Keble and Linacre. It Happens Here Oxford, a student-led campaign group opposing sexual violence, played a key role in lobbying the three colleges and continues to call for more colleges to join the pledge.

It Happens Here Oxford told Cherwell: “We are overjoyed [by Parliament passing the anti-NDA amendment]. Progress like this is hard-fought and hard-won. This has been the culmination of over a year of hard work by Can’t Buy My Silence, It Happens Here and incredible MPs and student organisations across the nation.

“[We continue] to urge every college to sign Can’t Buy My Silence’s anti-NDA pledge, to show their dedication to supporting students and protecting the rights of survivors. We also encourage every remaining [JCR and MCR] to pass our anti-NDA motion, unifying the voices of students across the university in a powerful act of solidarity.”

The anti-NDA pledge campaign was jointly launched in Janurary 2022 by Michelle Donelan, at the time Minister for Higher Education, and the group Can’t Buy My Silence. While 80 universities have already signed the pledge, only three Oxford colleges are among them – a point that was mentioned in the Commons debate before the anti-NDA amendment was accepted.

The House of Commons passed the anti-NDA amendment on 7th February after it was proposed in December by the House of Lords. However, other amendments to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill are still being negotiated, with the bill moving between the two houses in a back-and-forth process known as ‘ping pong’. It is unclear when this will end.

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