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New SULF publication: On academic freedom

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The academic freedom is constantly challenged. It needs constitutional protection. Read more in the SULF publication On academic freedom.

Academic freedom in both research and education is a prerequisite for good societal development. History has taught us that new knowledge emerges when researchers are allowed to follow their own ideas, thoughts and objectives. The concept of academic freedom includes the ability for all researchers to freely choose a subject area, to decide on their method of research and to publish wherever they wish.

Academic freedom is essential for democracy because it enables open and critical discussion. Research and teaching that is free from religious, political or economic influence also helps to increase the general public’s understanding of complex issues and contributes knowledge that people need in order to make informed decisions in democratic processes.

The democracy aspect is the reason why SULF promotes the reinforcement of constitutional protection for the freedom of higher education, which is currently lacking in Sweden’s Instrument of Government. Strong legal protection is important. But it is not sufficient. Education must also have constitutional protection, as must research.

In addition to the obstacles highlighted by Professor Shirin Ahlbäck Öberg in this article, SULF believes that one of the biggest obstacles to democracy and the free dissemination of knowledge is the high rate of precarious employment in the higher education sector. This applies both to the many early-career fixed-term positions and to the fact that even permanent jobs are insecure in practice. When the money runs out, so does the employment. The fact that employment is insecure to such a great extent for the people who are society’s disseminators of knowledge is a major obstacle to the exercise of academic freedom.

When researchers and university teachers are afraid to challenge the status quo for fear of losing their jobs, the capacity to find new and innovative solutions to problems shrinks. This uncertainty can also impact people’s willingness and ability to speak out in the workplace and can lead to a culture of self-censorship and fear of reprisals. It can silence the free and independent academic transfer of knowledge. That would be a serious blow to social development.

That is why academic freedom is important.

Read more in the SULF publication On academic freedom.

Read an interview with the author, professor Shirin Ahlbäck Öberg in Universitetsläraren (in Swedish only): Akademisk frihet temat på högskolesymposium

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