Research

Study Highlights Policy Options For Monitoring Academic Freedom Across The European Union

March 31, 2023 1102
Photo shows an open book with letters coming out of it.
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While is often perceived as an assumed right and not a legal one, academic freedom is recognized as a protected right in legal frameworks and constitutions across the world. For instance, in Article 13 of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, academic freedom is considered an integral value that should be “free of constraint.”

However, the EU itself has a vague legal framework and definition of academic freedom that makes it challenging to monitor and protect the right across member states.

To safeguard academic freedom, the European Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) is creating an authoritative platform, the Academic Freedom Monitor, to monitor and publish annual data on the status of academic freedom across the EU.

A study published this month, “How Academic Freedom Is Monitored,” aims to assist STOA in the creation of its monitoring platform. The study, authored by Gergely Kováts and Zoltán Rónay of the European Parliamentary Research Service, reviews the existing approaches used to monitor academic freedom and presents new policy options.

“To develop an instrument for monitoring academic freedom at the EU level, it is necessary to operationalize the agreed content of academic freedom, to be able to define what is worth tracking in the monitoring process,” the report reads.

The study notes that a framework known as the “onion model” is a useful way to describe the elements that are essential to academic freedom and the elements that help support and protect it. According to the model, a violation of an essential element infringes on academic freedom, while a violation of a supporting element weakens academic freedom.

The onion model considers the freedom to teach, the freedom to research, the freedom to learn, the freedom to disseminate knowledge and the freedom of self-governance essential elements of academic freedom. Conversely, the model considers employment security, institutional autonomy and financial security supporting elements.

While methodologies like the onion model help provide an understanding of academic freedom, assessing the actual state of academic freedom in the EU remains a challenge. As the study notes:

We have determined that assessing the status of academic freedom is a difficult task because academic freedom is a complex concept, there may be a difference between the de jure status as defined by law and the de facto status that exists in reality, there may be differences within each country, for example between sectors and institutions, academic freedom is subject to influence and violation by many different actors (state, companies, public, academia itself) and in addition to overt and direct forms of violation of academic freedom, there are also more covert and subtle elements that are more difficult to detect (e.g. self-censorship, corruption).

The study analyzed 10 current methods used to evaluate academic freedom such as the comparative analysis of the regulatory environment and the Academic Freedom Index. The researchers concluded the existing methods and procedures for measuring academic freedom do not give a full representation of the level of academic freedom in a specific place because they aren’t published frequently, aren’t in-depth, compress information too much, or only emphasize certain elements of academic freedom.

Thus, the study suggests a new monitoring tool should be created that focuses on EU member states and is comprehensive, systematic, independent, formative and integrates and contextualizes the results of existing assessment methods. The researchers generated five policy options for STOA to consider moving forward.

The policy options include strengthening the legal definition and interpretation of academic freedom, increasing collaborative efforts between the European Higher Education Area, the European Economic Area and the European Research Area through the use of existing monitoring methods and the development of new methods, creating an independent academic freedom monitoring policy through meta-evaluation by experts, self-assessment, an accreditation approach or a combined approach, increasing stakeholder involvement in developing the new monitoring method and creating procedures to strengthen academic integrity.

Read the whole report here: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2023/740228/EPRS_STU(2023)740228_EN.pdf

Emma Richards is a student at the University of Florida studying public relations. She is the social science communications intern at Sage Publishing.

View all posts by Emma Richards

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