Academic freedom in the U.K.: legal and normative protection in a comparative context [Report for the University and College Union]

Karran, Terence and Mallinson, Lucy (2017) Academic freedom in the U.K.: legal and normative protection in a comparative context [Report for the University and College Union]. Project Report. University and College Union, Lincoln.

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Abstract

This report examines the legal (de jure) and normative (de facto) protection for academic freedom in the UK, when compared with the other 27 EU nations. The legal protection is assessed first, by examining the EU nations’ constitutions and legislative instruments; second, by means of an assessment of individual nations’ degree of compliance with UNESCO’s 1997 Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel; and third by means of a very detailed analysis of 37 differing elements of university compliance with an array of measures, such as international instruments, but also including (for example) the ability of academic staff to appoint or dismiss the Rector, Deans and Heads of Departments. In sharp contrast with the other 27 EU nations, the constitutional protection for academic freedom (either directly, or indirectly via freedom of speech) in the UK is negligible, as is the legislative protection for the substantive (teaching and learning) and supportive (tenure and governance) elements of academic freedom. Additionally, the UK is similarly deficit in protecting academic freedom in line with international agreements of which it is a signatory, more especially UNESCO’s 1997 Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel. Utilising the most comprehensive assessment of the constitutional and legal protection of academic freedom, the UK attains a score of 35%, which is less than the EU average (53%), and the second lowest among the 28 EU states.
The analysis of normative de facto protection uses comparable data from over 2000 UCU members and 5000 staff in universities of the European states, gathered by means of similar surveys. It 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, 23.1% 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.
In sum the very low level of legal protection in the UK is mirrored by a low level of awareness of the rights of academic freedom, and a high level of abus

Keywords:academic freedom, De jure protection, De facto protection
Subjects:X Education > X342 Academic studies in Higher Education
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Education
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ID Code:26811
Deposited On:31 Mar 2017 14:50

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