EUA, All European Academies (ALLEA) and Science Europe have issued a joint statement on the urgent need to back commitments to academic freedom and university autonomy with solid actions. The three partners, representing a vast section of Europe’s research and higher education system, maintain that academic freedom and institutional autonomy are of fundamental importance and value to society.
“Right now, we are witnessing disturbing developments and outright infringements on academic freedom and institutional autonomy in the European Higher Education Area,” said Lesley Wilson, EUA Secretary General. “Pressures exerted on these core principles are worrying barriers in advancing our societies towards a more prosperous and sustainable future underpinned by knowledge.”
The statement calls on governments and public authorities to protect academic freedom and safeguard institutional autonomy by providing sound regulatory frameworks and refraining from interference in the internal affairs of higher education and research institution. It also urges them to guarantee scholars and students the rights that constitute academic freedom, such as freedom of expression, opinion and thought.
Furthermore, the three organisations call on universities, funding agencies, academies and other research organisations to foster a culture in which free expression and the open exchange of opinion are valued and the academic freedom of researchers, teachers and students is safeguarded.
Recent cases include Hungary, where the European Parliament triggered a disciplinary procedure to determine if democratic values, including academic freedom, have been undermined. In 2018, the government banned the teaching of gender studies and forced the Central European University to relocate most of its activities outside the country. In Turkey, the sector has come under increased pressure after the 2016 coup attempt, with thousands of public employees being dismissed from their jobs, including academics and higher education administrators.
EUA takes these events very seriously as institutional autonomy and academic freedom are core values underpinning all university activities. The present statement, and the partnership with ALLEA and Science Europe, is a call to action and reflects the organisations’ shared concern that academic freedom and institutional autonomy are no longer self-evident in Europe and around the world, with grave consequences for scholars, science and society.
The topic will be discussed on the occasion of the EUA Annual Conference, taking place in Paris this week at a high-level EUA Leadership Roundtable on “Shaping University Values” gathering more than 80 rectors from across the continent.