Academic journal article Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

"Measuring" the Erosion of Academic Freedom as an International Human Right: A Report on the Legal Protection of Academic Freedom in Europe

Academic journal article Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

"Measuring" the Erosion of Academic Freedom as an International Human Right: A Report on the Legal Protection of Academic Freedom in Europe

Article excerpt

F. The Legal Protection of the Right to Academic Freedom in Europe: Overall Results

The following two tables provide an overview of the total scores and results in the main categories of assessment and further an overall country ranking for the legal protection of the right to academic freedom in Europe.


The assessment has shown that by and large the twenty-eight EU member states formally ascribe to the value of academic freedom. In general, they have ratified relevant international agreements providing protection to the right to academic freedom (ICCPR, ICESCR, ECHR, etc.) and give recognition to the right (or related rights) at the constitutional level. Table 1 reflects countries to have scored an average of 78 percent in this category. Also at the level of HE legislation, academic freedom enjoys express recognition in most HE systems, Table 2 showing that an average of 59 percent compliance was achieved in this category. There are, however, some HE systems--those of Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Slovenia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom--whose HE legislation does not or only inadequately refers to academic freedom. Whereas all HE systems, in a more or less satisfactory manner, expressly provide for the autonomy of institutions of HE in their HE legislation, rights of self-governance of academic staff and tenure in the sense of employment stability are accorded express recognition in fifteen and eight HE systems, respectively, with a rating of "full compliance" having been awarded in only three cases and one case, respectively.

If one turns to analyzing the way the right to academic freedom has been concretized in the HE and other legislation of the states concerned, it will be noted that performance levels are far less satisfactory than those identified in view of its formal protection. The average score for institutional autonomy lies at 46 percent (Table 3), that for academic self-governance below that at 43 percent (Table 4), and that for job security (including "tenure") at a mere 37 percent (Table 5). Many commentators would perhaps disagree and consider institutional autonomy to enjoy a higher level of legal protection than is borne out here. However, as has been stressed above, "institutional autonomy" in the context of this study means "institutional autonomy as limited by academic freedom and human rights." HE institutions in many of the HE systems assessed do possess wide competences to include external members in their governing bodies, to levy and decide on the amount of study fees, to dismiss academic staff for reasons of "redundancy," and to freely engage in collaborative activities with private industry to acquire funding subject to only limited public control. Such unbridled powers, however, are not concomitant with institutional autonomy--rather, they expose a misinterpretation of the concept. Table 3 shows Finland and the United Kingdom to be the top performers in the category "institutional autonomy." At the bottom of the table is Hungary, Hungarian HE legislation reflecting a paternalistic role of the state in regulating HE. (261)

The autonomy of an institution of HE, moreover, cannot be divorced from the guarantee of academic self-governance. HE institutions, which possess wide powers, but in which the academic community--encompassing academic staff, but also students--does not retain the competence to sufficiently participate in the taking of decisions directly or indirectly having a bearing on science and scholarship, can at most be seen to be nominally autonomous, and they are certainly not in accordance with the standards of the UNESCO Recommendation. The assessment has revealed that the HE legislation of European states inadequately protects the right of "sufficient participation," which is increasingly being eroded by promoting an "alternative model. …

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