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DAAD supporting research on academic freedom

In November 2022, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) announced the winners of the first Fundamental Academic Values Award funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). This year, the awards were presented during the scholarship holders’ meeting held from 30 June to 2 July in Berlin. The winners were researchers Janika Spannagel (Freie Universität Berlin), Dr Elizaveta Potapova (Public Policy and Management Institute, Lithuania), and Dr Milica Popović (Central European University, Austria).

The figures do not bode well. 4 billion people – half of the world’s population – are confronted with an erosion of academic freedom. This was a recurring theme in the introductory speeches when DAAD scholarship holders met to discuss fundamental academic values in the Technische Universität Berlin's Audimax hall. Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg and the University of Göteborg identified the trend in their annual Academic Freedom Index. Researchers at these universities regularly evaluate data on freedom of academia, science and research in 180 countries. While it is encouraging to see Germany ranked among the top places in the latest report, the fact that so many other countries perform less well, including in Europe, is a matter of concern.

In his speech on the Fundamental Values Awards, Peter Greisler, Head of the BMBF 's Higher Education Division, emphasised how this negative trend is also apparent in countries within the European Higher Education Area. He argued that it is therefore crucial for Germany to uphold its role model function as an attractive partner and a destination for creative minds in academia. “This also is a message to states where improvement is needed on compliance with academic freedom: creating fair and good conditions for teaching and research is worth the effort, as they form the basis for strong research and therefore for innovation and prosperity,” he said.

Two major strategy papers published in late November 2020 summarised what fundamental academic values mean for the European Research Area in particular, and how academic freedom plays a role in that. A communiqué issued by the Bologna Ministerial Conference in Rome identified several key issues: academic freedom and integrity, autonomy in higher education, participation for lecturers and students in the running of higher education institutions, and social responsibility by and for higher education. The Bonn Declaration on Freedom of Scientific Research, presented to the Ministerial Conference on the European Research Area, also addressed the issue, stating that academic freedom “encompasses the right to freely define research questions, choose and develop theories, gather empirical material and employ sound academic research methods, to question accepted wisdom and develop new ideas”.

However, identifying how these fundamental values manifest themselves within the academic contexts of certain countries remains a challenge. The Fundamental Values Awards recognise the valuable research on academic freedom conducted by three young academics: Janika Spannagel (Freie Universität Berlin), Dr Elizaveta Potapova (Public Policy and Management Institute, Lithuania), and Dr Milica Popović (Central European University, Austria).

For more information about the winners and their research, please click here.