De facto protection for academic freedom in the U.K.: empirical evidence in a comparative context

Karran, Terence and Mallinson, Lucy (2017) De facto protection for academic freedom in the U.K.: empirical evidence in a comparative context. Working Paper. University of Lincoln, Lincoln.

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Abstract

This analysis, which uses similar surveys to gather comparable data from over 2000 UCU members and 5000 staff in universities of the European states, demonstrates that the low level of de jure protection for academic freedom in the UK is mirrored by an equally poor (if not worse) level of de facto protection. The reality is that, in the overwhelming majority of instances, UCU members report statistically significantly higher levels of systematic abuse of their academic freedom, across a wide array of measures, than their European counterparts. For example, 23% of UCU respondents (and 14.1% of EU respondents) reported being bullied on account of their academic views, 26.6% of UCU respondents reported being subjected to psychological pressure (EU = 15.7%), while 35.5% of the UCU cohort admitted to self-censorship, for fear of negative repercussions, such as loss of privileges, demotion, physical harm (EU= 19.1%). Some of this abuse may be attributable to a lack of knowledge of academic freedom rights among staff – only 41.7% of the UCU cohort claimed to have an adequate working knowledge of academic freedom (EU= 49.2), while less than half that proportion (20.6%) knew about the 1988 Education Reform Act, which supposedly protects academic freedom in the UK. Not surprisingly, 81.6% of UCU respondents said they would welcome additional information on the concept of academic freedom and its rights and responsibilities. Furthermore, UCU members are much more likely to strongly agree than their European counterparts that the major elements of academic freedom (freedom for teaching and research, autonomy, shared governance and employment protection) have declined. Work elsewhere suggests two possible options to ameliorate this situation. First, awareness raising about academic freedom among UCU members, along with the provision of explanatory information and training materials. Second, an appeal to UNESCO that the UK government does not meet its obligations under the 1997 Recommendation (of which it is a signatory state). The stark differences between the UK and the EU, in terms of de jure protection and de facto realities, both demonstrate the necessity for such an approach and provide a highly credible basis for such an appeal. This strategy was successfully adopted by the Dansk Magisterforening, the Danish academic professional association, and led to an independent expert evaluation of the legal protection for academic freedom, and change in the law.

Additional Information:This is a report commissioned by the University and College Union into the de jure protection for academic freedom, and the de facto situation.
Keywords:academic freedom, University and College Union
Subjects:X Education > X342 Academic studies in Higher Education
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Education
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ID Code:26470
Deposited On:23 Feb 2017 11:54

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