Academic freedom is diminishing

This year, researchers from the Universities of Erlangen-Nuremberg and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden are releasing an updated version of the Academic Freedom Index. The index reflects the degree of scientific exchange and freedom of research in 177 countries on a scale from zero to one. The AFI provides data on academic freedom worldwide for the period 1900 to 2021. This is to monitor research independence and draw attention to the backlog.

More precisely, AFI consists of five indicators. Each indicator captures a different dimension of academic freedom: freedom of research and education, freedom of academic exchange and scholarly communication, institutional autonomy, campus integrity, and freedom of academic and cultural expression. Scholars receive reports on the status of academic freedom from academics in the respective countries.

The index continues to drop

Several northern and eastern European countries rank first in the Academic Freedom Index in 2021, as well as some South American countries such as Peru, Uruguay, and Chile. Germany is in first place, followed by Italy and Latvia. And in the last three places were Turkmenistan, Eritrea and North Korea. The latter has an almost zero indicator.

In fact, a decline in academic freedom can be observed in all regions of the world except for parts of sub-Saharan Africa. 37 percent of the world’s population lives where academic freedom is regressing – nearly two out of five people worldwide suffer a regression. This continues the trend of declining academic freedom around the world that began around 2008.

More losers than winners

In 19 countries, researchers found significant and significant reductions of at least 0.1 point. For example, between 2011 and 2021, Hong Kong lost more than 0.56 points on the free science scale. But also in Brazil, Turkey, Thailand, Russia, Hungary and Belarus, the flag has become less free in the past ten years.

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However, setbacks do not only affect countries where academic freedom has not been in good shape for a long time: the USA and Great Britain in particular, which have long been considered bastions of academic freedom and academic excellence, raise eyebrows with a significant decline in academic freedom .

In contrast, only two countries recorded a significant improvement in academic freedom between 2011 and 2021. This includes Gambia, which managed to improve 0.3 points after a change of government in 2017. The second country is Uzbekistan, which despite the expansion of academic freedom still ranks 20 percent lower.

Less free science in authoritarian regimes

“Under international human rights law, governments have a responsibility to uphold the right to science,” the researchers explain in their report. They see the weakness of democracy in many countries as one of the main reasons for the decline in academic freedom.

The 2022 V-Democracy report states that “the level of democracy enjoyed by the average global citizen in 2021 has fallen to what it was in 1989 – reversing democratic progress in the past 30 years.” Freedom of expression and academic freedom are not identical concepts, except that they are related to each other. Since the AFI Index “Freedom of Academic and Cultural Expression” has declined the most, the impact of authoritarian regimes on academic freedom is particularly evident here.

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