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The Academic Freedom Index: signs of decline in most countries

The second edition of the Academic Freedom Index (AFi) has been published. In comparing the latest research with comparable results from a year ago (ACA March 2020), there are signs of decline in many countries. The survey showed the largest annual declines in academic freedom in Belarus, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, and Zambia.

This research on academic freedom is composed of five indicators: freedom to research and teach, freedom of academic exchange and dissemination, institutional autonomy, campus integrity and freedom of academic and cultural expression. It draws on contributions by almost 2 000 country experts from around the world and covers 175 countries over the period from 1900 to 2020.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, higher education institutions have tried to adapt to the new circumstances by implementing virtual teaching, learning and examinations. At the same time, new threats to academic freedom have also emerged. This research highlights the increased opportunities for surveillance of research, teaching and discourse, as well as sanctions, restrictions, self-censorship, and isolation.

The AFi provides a list of recommendations for key stakeholders on how they can apply this index to promote and protect academic freedom. Among these recommendations are:

  • Higher education authorities should use AFi data to assess the trajectory of their own work. Furthermore, university leaders may use AFi data when advocating for material and policy support for their institutions and their national higher education system.
  • The AFi can help national parliaments improve the quality and competitiveness of higher education in their countries.
  • The Afi can help diplomats to understand and reach to changing levels and violations of academic freedom.

Read the full publication here.