Introduction

Academic freedom is used as a general term for the freedom that especially universities, their staff and students have to search for and disseminate knowledge without interference from others. It is important for research, teaching and communication.

Academic freedom entails considerable institutional autonomy of the individual research institution and an individual academic freedom for the individual academic staff member and student. Academic freedom is closely associated with freedom of thought and freedom of expression, and is recognised as a fundamental right in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, cf. section 13:

“The arts and sciences research shall be free of constraint. Academic freedom shall be respected.”

The extent of academic freedom depends in particular on a mixture of formal and informal rules, funding, management practices and institutional frameworks, cf. the report on research and freedom of expression at universities by the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters,  (Forskningspolitisk årsmøde 2007), page 6, and NOU 2006:19, page 13.

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What is academic freedom?

At international level, reference is often made to the following definition of ”academic freedom”:

”Academic freedom may be defined as the freedom to conduct research, teach, speak, and publish, subject to the norms and standards of scholarly inquiry, without interference or penalty, wherever the search for truth and understanding may lead”.

(Source: Global Colloquium of University Presidents (2005) reproduced in accordance with NOU 2006:19 on academic freedom, p. 12)

In the UK, Academics for Academic Freedom made the following statement on academic freedom:

“‘We, the undersigned, believe the following two principles to be the foundation of academic freedom:

(1) that academics, both inside and outside the classroom, have unrestricted liberty to question and test received wisdom and to put forward controversial and unpopular opinions, whether or not these are deemed offensive, and

(2)  that academic institutions have no right to curb the exercise of this freedom by members of their staff, or to use it as grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal.”

A detailed account of the history, reasons and restrictions of the freedom of research is available in the Norwegian report on academic freedom, see NOU 2006:19 om akademisk frihet.

Individual academic freedom

The individual academic freedom is important for research, teaching and communication:

Research

See scientific freedom.

Education

According to the Danish University Act, universities should provide ”research-based education at the highest international level in the disciplines it covers”. Although there are provisions for regulation of individual programmes and disciplines, the teachers at universities and other research institutions have often considerable academic and pedagogical freedom to organise their teaching (”free choice of methods”).

On the importance of academic freedom in terms of teaching, see e.g. NOU 2006:19, p.15. See also the report to the Public Accounts Committee on teaching at universities from the Danish National Audit Office: ”Beretning til Statsrevisorerne om undervisningen på universiteterne” (Aug. 2012).

Knowledge dissemination, including participation in public debate

As society’s central repository of culture and knowledge, the university must exchange knowledge and competences with the society it belongs to and encourage its staff to take part in public debate, cf. section 2(3) no. 3, of the Danish University Act. In this context researchers have traditionally extensive freedom of expression, see Researchers’ dissemination and freedom of expression.

Institutional autonomy

Academic freedom requires a certain institutional autonomy. In Denmark this is particularly discussed in relation to scientific freedom , see Scientific freedom.

See also

Other references: