Academic freedom

Academic freedom and scientific autonomy are vital for science to progress and best serve society. However, in a number of countries and in a number of different ways, these rights are being encroached upon.

Political, religious and commercial pressures on both individual scientists and academic institutions are undermining the ability of researchers to work freely and without hindrance, threatening The Principle of Freedom and Responsibility in Science enshrined in ISC’s statutes. Seriously concerned by this growing trend, CFRS:

  • developed a principle document to frame its understanding/publications/statutes-and-rules-of-procedure of academic freedom
  • reached out to the ISC Membership learn about their specific national and disciplinary situations regarding the censoring of scientists and the protection of whistle-blowers
  • compiled information on the constitutional protection of academic freedom

Principle of academic freedom

At meetings since 2010/2011, CFRS noted with concern an increasing pressure on academic freedom and scientific autonomy around the globe. In the understanding that the issue would continue to call into question the Principle of Universality of Science, the Committee drafted a document to clarify and frame academic freedom as it relates to CFRS’s remit. Referring to the Universality of Science Principle as an umbrella and to the 1997 UNESCO “Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel,” academic freedom is related to the conduct of science. While outlining academic freedom in broad terms, it raises specific issues, draws a distinction between academic freedom at the individual and institutional level and points out the responsibility aspect if scientists wanted to benefit from academic freedom.

Protection of academic freedom in national constitutions

The concept of academic freedom finds confirmation in legal texts. Below is a compilation of national constitutions that guarantee academic freedom at the generic level. Depending on the national and cultural context, the relevant passages may specifically refer to academic freedom, but also to “free knowledge,” “scientific creativity” or other similar provisions to that same effect. The texts provided are comprehensive as far as texts at the highest legal level are concerned. Although not included here, this does not preclude other legal stipulations or court rulings that are influential in some national jurisdictions.

This reference document was compiled by systematically collecting information from a variety of sources, notably the country reports fulfilling Article 15(3) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and online collections of constitutions.