Academic freedom has seen a general decline across world regions and regime types, challenging scholars to express their ideas and findings freely. This is the key takeaway from the latest update of the Fredrich-Alexander-Universität Institute for Political Science‘s Academic Freedom Index.
The AFI is a tool used to assess the de facto status of academic freedom across various countries and territories worldwide. The fourth version of the index, released last month, includes data for 179 countries and territories, up from the 175 in the previous edition.
The new report found 4 billion people, over 50 percent of the world’s population, face reduced academic freedom in 2022. The index also determined 22 countries and territories offer fewer academic freedoms than they did a decade ago. In 152 other countries, academic freedom has stagnated at a low level.
Academic freedom has only improved in five countries, which together represent 0.7 percent of the world’s population: The Gambia, Uzbekistan, Seychelles, Montenegro and Kazakhstan. On the other hand, countries with large populations like China, India, the United States and Mexico have backslid. While the country’s political settings vary, all have experienced declines in academic freedom, with the changes in India and China alone impacting 2.8 billion people.
The report found declines seem to be occurring worldwide in various political contexts. For instance, reduced academic freedom in Eastern Europe and Central Asia can be attributed to increasing autocracy, and in liberal democracies the United States of America and the United Kingdom, downturns also occur.
The report offered a deeper dive into the U.S. decline:
The updated index was informed by data collected from 1900 until December 2022, expertise from more than 2,000 scholars and standardized questionnaires. To measure a nation’s overall degree of academic freedom, the index considers several factors.
“The Academic Freedom Index rests on five key indicators: the freedom to research and teach; the freedom of academic exchange and dissemination; the institutional autonomy of universities; campus integrity; and the freedom of academic and cultural expression,” the report reads. “Through those five indicators, the AFI captures elements of academic freedom that are a) comparable across different university systems across the world and b) specific to the academic sector.”
To generate the index, the V-Dem Institute uses a Bayesian measurement model that turns data from experts into indicators and index values. Version 13 of the measurement model, which was used to create the newest index, included increased historical coverage for 16 countries, added more contributing coders and revised the dataset on constitutional guarantees of academic freedom.