Threats to academic freedom across Europe – a new European Parliament Report


A new European Parliament’s Study on the state of play of academic freedom aims to provide an overview of the situation of academic freedom, highlighting the differences between the EU Member States with regard to conditions and eventual violations of academic freedom. This research has been conducted based on a defined monitoring methodology by the Report “How academic freedom is monitored”.

The Academic Freedom Monitoring Index (AFi), which is based on several criteria including freedom to research and teach, freedom of academic exchange and institutional autonomy, provides a concise summary of each country’s de facto situation of academic freedom. It reports an overall good situation: 24 EU Member States are among countries in the world where academic freedom is most respected. Academic freedom is not absolute, as it entails certain responsibilities and obligations, such as academic integrity, societal demands, but also certain conditions such as institutional autonomy, self-governance, working conditions and financial conditions of academics. The Study shows that even if the situation is generally positive, an erosion of academic freedom is occurring, along with a growing set of worries and threats. For example, in Hungary structural de facto violations of academic freedom are taking place.

Violations may take the form of political interference in determining which academic fields are scientific and which are not (in Poland, Romania, Denmark, the Netherlands) or of governmental interference threatening institutional autonomy and self-governance (in Croatia, Denmark, France, NL, Sweden). Another issue relates to the introduction of new forms of leadership which affect academic freedom, by for example altering self-governance practices or academic working conditions. Finally, growing threats come from both the civil society (in particular, due to the interference of social media during the COVID-19 pandemic) and from the private sector which is trying to gain control over research and teaching programs as in France and Denmark. Based on these national overviews, general trends in these debates are identified and are used to present several policy options for the European Parliament. Firstly, it is necessary to reach a broad agreement between academia and outside academia on the basic conditions for academic freedom and secondly to create a broader understanding of academic freedom as a basic right and principle within academia.

As for the next steps, the Study suggests revising current legal foundation for protecting academic freedom to cover new threats, enhancing the awareness on academic freedom (outside and inside academia), improving monitoring and reporting and finally creating a European-wide Platform for Academic Freedom where academics and stakeholders can report ongoing violations in order to address them. It is essential to safeguard academic freedom, as considered an integral value that should be ‘free of constraint” according to Article 13 of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. As stated in the ETUCE Report to Rome Ministerial Meeting 2020, academic freedom has a close link to well-being of the academics, salary, and working conditions, which all are conditions of quality higher education and research.