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NEWS: Should governments control academic institutions or provide more freedom?

Academic freedom has remained one of the most controversial issues of all times. Generally, academic freedom is the freedom provided to teachers and students to communicate and pursue knowledge and conduct educational research without any arbitrary restriction or interference from government, law, institutions and public pressure. The basic elements of academic freedom comprise of freedom for teachers to teach in a manner they find professionally appropriate, raise intellectual concern into any kind of subjects and present their analysis and findings to colleagues and students. It also gives freedom to teachers to publish their research with full data and conclusions without facing restrictions from the government. On the other hand, academic freedom for students include elements such as freedom to study topics and subjects that they find concerning and the freedom to express their opinions and form their conclusions without any external pressure.

 

Academic repression and intimidation

Some of the recent examples of academic repression include:

Control imposed on research institutes by the Hungarian government

On 2nd July 2019, the Hungarian parliament passed a law which allows the government to take charge of more than 40 institutes belonging to the Hungarian Academy of Science. While the government says that the purpose behind imposing these controls is to make research more innovative, researchers and educationalists have raised several concerns about academic freedom in Hungary. Researchers believe that these controls could result in a significant decline in competitiveness and might result in the loss of education quality.

 

China threatens worldwide academic institutions

Several institutions of higher education around the world have recently been resisting the efforts of the Chinese government to weaken international academic freedom. Human Rights Watch has found different threats to academic freedom raised due to the pressure from the Chinese government. It found that several Chinese students studying abroad were being monitored on campus through surveillance. Additionally, the families of Chinese students received threats in response to their statements in classrooms. Thus, Human Rights Watch issued a 12-point Code of Conduct on 21st March 2019 for higher education institutes to adopt for responding to the academic freedom threats from the Chinese government to teachers, scholars, students and educational institutions.

 

Effect on academics

Any form of controls and limitations imposed by the government on academics can limit their sources to consume and distribute information, thus putting them into distress. Supporters of academic freedom believe that the main purpose of academics is to pursue education is to gain complete access to all topics covering different subjects and to share their knowledge without any disruptions. As academic scholars possess the capabilities to shape and control the flow of data, they are continuously targeted by authorities for repression. This reduces their limits to communicate ideas and transfer information to the public. As their ideas come across any political groups, they are likely to get targeted for public criticism, imprisonment or job loss.

While these restrictions and limitations are good to some extent to maintain the stability in a region, imposing too many restrictions might reduce the capabilities of students, teachers and researchers. However, threats in the form of attacks on universities and threats to the families of scholars need to be controlled. Thus, to maintain a smooth flow of knowledge and ideas, universities around the world should come together to make a stronger line of action against governments and institutions who violate the existing standards of student’s safety and autonomy.