Academic freedom in Europe: the nature of the crisis
Governance and the Responsible University
Liviu Matei, CEU, Hungary
Single presentation - 30 Minutes
The paper will address the question whether we are currently experiencing a crisis of academic freedom in Europe and, if yes, what is the nature of this crisis. “Europe” here is understood as the European Higher Education Area. The term “crisis” has not been used so far in the research or, more broadly, debates about academic freedom in Europe. It is even questionable whether this term should be used. Altogether, there is limited scholarly research available on academic freedom in recent years. Many observers, however, point to alarming new developments, including extreme restrictions of academic freedom. Such are the crackdown on universities in Turkey after the alleged coup d'état of 2016, or the regulatory changes in Hungary (a EU member state) subjecting universities in this country to strict government control after 2010, and threatening to force Central European University out of the country and the research institutes of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences out of operation after 2017. Other recent instances of actual or attempted infringement of academic freedom have been recorded in Europe, both in the East (in countries like Russia or Armenia) and in the East (including in the UK, France or the Netherlands). The paper will provide a systematic review of the evidence and research on the current state of academic freedom in the EHEA to propose an answer to question about the existence of a “crisis”. It will further discuss the nature of this “crisis”, arguing that in addition to political, policy and regulatory frameworks, also in addition to practical considerations (i.e. about the practice of academic freedom), related conceptual and intellectual considerations should be brought into the discussion. The paper will argue that academic freedom cannot be counted among the achievements of the EHEA. It has been systematically neglected in the Bologna Process, at least until recently, as clearly acknowledged in the Paris 2018 Ministerial Communiqué. Academic freedom is an underdeveloped concept in the EHEA. There is no European definition, reference or model for academic freedom. This makes it difficult to monitor academic freedom (including in order to asses any crisis), to develop and evaluate policies and practices for which academic freedom is or should be relevant. Finally, the paper will address the question whether a European reference for academic freedom would be useful, possibly necessary, and whose responsibility it should be to develop it.