April 23, 2024

Academic Freedom Index: Academic freedom is unevenly distributed globally

Today, researchers from Friedrich Alexander University (FAU) Erlangen-Nuremberg and the University of Gothenburg published this year's Academic Freedom Index (Academic Freedom Index,avi). It covers nearly 180 countries and shows that academic freedom is not a reality for nearly half of the world's population (45 percent), 3.6 billion people.

This situation is similar to exactly fifty years ago. Also in the other index distribution. Academic freedom is strong for eleven percent of the population and somewhat restricted for another eight percent. Only 14% can rely on absolute academic freedom and 21% can rely on it to some extent.

Negative overall balance with improvements in 56 countries

Despite the negative overall balance, academic freedom improved in 56 countries, and even reached a high level in just over 61 countries. In ten countries, academic freedom steadily increased in 2023. According to the university, “the positive development last occurred more than twenty years ago.” However, academic freedom has deteriorated in 23 countries, and even significantly deteriorated in ten of them. These often include countries with large populations such as Bangladesh, India, the USA and Turkey.

The Academic Freedom Index is the result of an international collaboration with more than 2,300 experts from around the world, coordinated by researchers from the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg and the Institute of Political Science at FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg. It provides data on academic freedom worldwide for the period 1900 to 2023 and consists of Five indicators:

  1. Freedom of research and teaching,
  2. Freedom of academic exchange and scientific communication,
  3. Academic and cultural freedom of expression,
  4. Institutional independence
  5. and campus safety.
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The index is compiled through a dedicated, quality-assured statistical model that systematically collects one million observation points. Since 2021, AFI has been funded by the Volkswagen Foundation for five years.

Polarization often leads to restrictions on academic freedom

This year's International Academic Policy Alliance report makes clear that academic freedom can be affected by various factors, but is particularly threatened and declining in countries experiencing strong social and political polarization. These include Russia, Hungary, India, El Salvador, Hong Kong and Venezuela. There have been exceptions, however, as academic freedom has increased despite polarization in Brazil, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Thailand.

The index experts conclude that the relationship between academic freedom and polarization is complex and has not yet been fully investigated. According to them, the legal framework, science policy and the reactions of universities and scientists are likely to play an important role in dealing with polarization and its potential impact on science and higher education.

Top three in academic freedom: Czech Republic, Estonia, Belgium

Germany, along with Sweden, Finland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Costa Rica, Chile, Cyprus, Barbados, Jamaica, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Honduras and Barbados, is one of the countries with the highest AFI. The Czech Republic has the highest rates, followed by Estonia and Belgium. The Seychelles, Gambia and Montenegro are experiencing particular growth. The losers at the top of the AFI are Austria, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Poland and the USA.

At the bottom overall in the AFI are North Korea, Eritrea, Myanmar and Belarus, as well as Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates and Iran. Academic freedom has declined in particular in Myanmar, Belarus, Nicaragua, Turkey, and Afghanistan. The AFI also fell sharply in Yemen, Russia, Bangladesh, Hungary, Mali and the Philippines. In Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Fiji, academic freedom is relatively restricted, but the situation has improved significantly in these countries compared to other countries.

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