- 1 What is freedom of research?
- 2 Research freedom at Danish universities
- 3 Research freedom at other Danish institutions
What is freedom of research?
Part of academic freedom
Freedom of research refers in particular to the freedom to choose a research topic, the freedom to ask questions, the freedom to choose materials and methods to find the answers, and the freedom to publicly present hypotheses, results and reasoning. This research freedom at Danish universities follows from Sections 2(2) and 14(6) of the Danish University Act.
Research freedom is part of academic freedom, and involves, among other things, extensive freedom of expression for the individual researcher. At the international level, this topic is discussed under the headings “academic freedom”, “research freedom”, “scientific freedom” and “freedom of (scientific) research”.
A detailed account of the history of, reasons for and restrictions on research freedom is available in the Norwegian report on academic freedom: NOU 2006:19 om akademisk frihet. Freedom of research is also the topic of two new Danish books, which are freely available as e-books from the UBVA website:
- Heine Andersen: Forskningsfrihed – ideal og virkelighed (2017)
- Heine Andersen, Bent Ole Gram Mortensen og Morten Rosenmeier (red.): Forskningsfrihed – hvad med juraen? (2022)
Justification of research freedom
Traditionally, the justification of research freedom is based on functionality: It is considered to be the most appropriate framework for the search for – and dissemination of – knowledge and understanding. Research freedom is also considered to be an essential prerequisite for research independence and legitimacy.
“The arts and sciences research shall be free of constraint. Academic freedom shall be respected.”
It is also referred to in the European Commission’s European Charter for Researchers.
Boundaries of research freedom
The research freedom at Danish universities is not unlimited. In particular, research must respect the applicable laws and the norms governing the responsible conduct of research.
Institutional and individual research freedom
When defining the concept of research freedom, a distinction is made between the institutional research freedom, which is linked to the research institution, and the individual research freedom, which is linked to the individual academic staff member. This is discussed in more detail below.
Research freedom at Danish universities
Institutional research freedom
According to section 2(2) of the Danish University Act, the university has research freedom which the university should uphold. The legislature thus intended to emphasise that the Danish universities have academic autonomy, and that they are independent of special interests, cf. the notes to the University Act (Bill No. 125 of 15 January 2003).
Until 2017, the institutionalised freedom of research at Danish universities was governed by the so-called development contracts, which were non-legally binding agreements on the universities’ strategic development during the contract period, typically 3 or 4 years. The purpose of the development contracts was to promote the universities’ strategic development and support universities in this endeavour. Following an amendment to the Danish University Act of 2011, the development contract was expected to contain 3-5 goals which the Minister imposes on the university (“mandatory goals”) and 3-5 goals selected by the university itself (“elective goals”). For more information about these development contracts, please refer to the notes to Bill No. 43 of 10 February 2011 (up to no. 10).
An amendment to the Danish University Act in 2017 (Act no. 699 of 8 June 2017) replaced these development contracts with so-called strategic framework agreements, which must include strategic goals for the university’s tasks in accordance with section 2 of the Danish University Act.
The following is stated in the legislative history for the 2017 Act:
”The strategic framework agreements must be specific to the individual institutions and contain the strategic goals for the university’s core tasks based on challenges of the individual university.
All goals shall be formulated in close dialogue between the university and the Minister.
The current distinction between mandatory and elective goals is thus nullified.
ith the proposed system, the strategic framework agreement will in future include the strategic goals for the tasks of the universities targeted the specific challenges of the individual university. Both the university and the Minister may initiate a renegotiation of the strategic goals, for example if the financial situation of the university changes significantly in relation to the original assumptions, or if new challenges mean that it would be appropriate to change the strategic goals of the framework agreement. Changes to the Agreement shall be subject to agreement between the Board and the Minister.
The bill does not stipulate any fixed duration of strategic framework agreements, but as a general rule the contract period will be 4 years. The Board has overall responsibility for ensuring the strategic framework agreement as a key management tool that interacts with the university’s overall strategy. The Board has overall the responsibility for ensuring that the goals of the agreement are met and the Chairman participates as the strategic partner in both the negotiation and ongoing follow-up on goals and results, and the Chairman must ensure overall integration between the framework agreement and the university’s strategic plans in general”.
Individual research freedom
According to section 2(2) of the Danish University Act the university must defend and uphold ”the research freedom of the individual researcher”, just as the university “must encourage its staff to take part 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”. (Section 2(3), nos. 3 and 4.)
Individual research freedom was described as follows in the legislative history for the 2003 University Act (see comments to the introduction (re. section 17(2)) of Bill No. 125 of 15 January 2003):
”The individual researcher enjoys freedom of research within the academic field of his/her employment, although bound by the obligations arising out of the employment.
The individual researcher can thus freely choose methodology, approach and subject within the bounds of the research strategies of the university as laid down in the performance contract”..”
Individual research freedom was not specifically mentioned in the 2003 University Act. An amendment adopted in 2011 incorporated individual research freedom explicitly into section 2(2) of the University Act and introduced the following provision in section 14(6):
”The rector may direct staff members to perform specific tasks or functions. Academic staff enjoy freedom of research and, within the bounds of the university’s research strategy, are free to perform independent research when not performing work assigned by management. The framework of the university’s research strategy applies to the entirety of the university. Academic staff may not be directed to perform specific tasks which require the entirety of their working hours over long periods of time, which would in essence deprive them of their freedom of research.”
The following appears from the explanatory notes to this provision:
”The amendment of the wording ”freedom of research” to the provision for individual freedom of research pertains to section 6. At the same time the wording is reorganised in order to emphasise that the premise is free research. Academic staff may continue to research freely during the time where they have not been directed to perform specific tasks. This means that they can choose topic, methodology and practice within the framework of the university’s research strategies. The Bill introduces an amendment so that the framework of the research strategy applies to the entire university.
The amendment also stipulates that the rector, or a duly assigned person, may not direct academic staff to perform specific tasks which require the entirety of their working hours over long periods of time, which would in essence deprive them of their freedom of research.
Time to conduct free research must also be ensured when performing research-based public sector services and assigned tasks. However, it is not possible to clearly define the extent of time for free research, as it will vary over time dependent on area and researcher. Thus it may well be that a researcher has less time for free research during a period of performing research-based public sector services or assigned tasks than during other periods.”
Individual research freedom entails, inter alia, extensive freedom of expression for researchers.
The practical extent of research freedom is mainly determined by a mix of formal and informal rules, funding, management practices and institutional framework, cf. Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, Forsknings- og ytringsfrihed på universiteterne (Annual Research Policy Meeting 2007), page 6, and more generally NOU 2006:19.
Research-based consultancy and public sector services
Under Section 14(6) of the Danish University Act, Danish universities must safeguard the research freedom of all of their researchers, including those providing research-based public services. You can read more about this at:
- Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, ”Research and freedom of speech in universities” (Annual Political Research Meeting 2007)
- The University of Copenhagen’s Code of good scientific practice in research collaborations with external partners
- Report of the Practice Committee of the University of Copenhagen on academic freedom in relation to sector research/consultancy for the Public Sector (in Danish (January 2007)
- Danish Centre for Social Science Research (VIVE): Study of Research Freedom in Relation to Publication of Aarhus University (in Danish: Undersøgelse af forskningsfrihed i forhold til offentliggørelse på Aarhus Universitet (2018))
Research freedom at other Danish institutions
The Danish Institute for Human Rights – Denmark’s National Human Rights Institution.
The Act supporting this institute contains the following provisions on research freedom:
”(5) The institution has freedom of research.
(6) The academic staff of the institution enjoy freedom or research and, within the bounds of the institution’s research strategy, are free to perform independent research when not performing work assigned by others.”
The explanatory notes to these provisions state that :
”It is proposed that sections 4 and 5 be amended to clarify that the Danish Institute for Human Rights – Denmark’s National Human Rights Institution as an institution has freedom of research and that individual research staff members have academic freedom within the framework of the institution’s research strategies during such time where other tasks are not assigned to them. The clarification is made by the inclusion of provisions in line with the provisions on freedom of research under the University Act. It is assumed that the institution specifies the definition of research and related freedom of research for academic staff, cf. section 5, as well as what is meant by ‘other tasks’.”
Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS)
The Act on the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) contains no rules on academic freedom. However, the legislative history (see section 3.1 of the comments) includes the following:
“In line with existing contracts between universities and the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Higher Education, the contract shall respect the Institute’s basic academic freedom and free choice of methods.”