Intellectual property rights of academics and researchers under pandemic pressure

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More than 40 Higher education expert unionists representing 28 European countries gathered online on 1-2 March 2021 for the ETUCE’s Higher Education and Research Standing Committee (HERSC) meeting. Among the numerous themes discussed, the meeting was the occasion to address the long-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis and the systemic changes that the Higher Education and Research (HER) sector is facing.

Following the ETUCE Conference 2020, this was the first meeting of the HERSC mandate for the period 2021-2024. Members elected Rob Copeland (UCU, United Kingdom), Annette Dolan (TUI, Ireland) and Alessandro Arienzo (FLC-CGIL, Italy) as respectively chair and vice-chairs of the HERSC. Congratulation to them!

HERSC members reported that the COVID-19 pandemic enhanced the prominence of issues related to intellectual property rights of academics and researchers as well as to the open access to knowledge in the HER sector. While private providers are increasingly finding more room to penetrate the HER sector, academics and researchers face growing pressure from education institutions claiming the ownership of the teaching materials. ETUCE member organisations reported to be actively mobilising for the protection of academics and researchers’ property rights. They illustrated their actions by sharing good practices put in place in the previous months: organisation of training and information sessions for members, provision of legal advice, and creation of a specific internal committee and working group to deal with the matter. Education trade unions expressed the urgency to find a balance between the guarantee of intellectual property rights of academics and researchers, and the open access to knowledge, in order to ensure the quality of higher education and research and to ensure the respect of academic freedom.

In dialogue with a representative of the European Network for Education in Occupational Safety and Health (ENETOSH), HERSC members exchanged views on the importance of higher education in promoting safe and decent work.

Education trade union representatives also expressed their deep concern on the recent attacks against academic freedom and institutional autonomy of education institutions in Turkey. The HERSC issued a statement in solidarity with Egitim-Sen, students, and staff of the Boğaziçi University (that can be found on ETUCE Twitter). Following a discussion with a guest speaker from the network “Scholars at risk” they highlighted that the COVID-19 crisis inflicted further pressure to fundamental values of higher education and research all over Europe.