Academic freedom in contemporary Britain: A cause for concern?

Using comparable legal information, and empirical data from over 2000 members of the UK’s University and College Union and 2000 staff in universities of the European states, gathered by means of similar surveys, this paper is a comparative assessment of the de jure protection for, and the de facto levels of, academic freedom enjoyed by academic staff in the UK, when compared to their EU counterparts. The paper examines the legal and constitutional protection for academic freedom and the current levels of, and changes to, the two substantive elements (freedom to teach and freedom to research) and three supportive components (autonomy, governance and tenure) of academic freedom. The study reveals that UK academic staff believe that there is a low level of protection for academic freedom and that it has declined, both in general, and with respect to the two substantive elements and three supportive components of academic freedom. Similar trends are evident in the EU states, but statistical tests reveal that for every measure utilised, the decline in academic freedom is significantly greater in the UK than in the EU states

University of Lincoln, College of Social Science Research

Terence Karran, University of Lincoln, School of Education

Klaus D. Beiter, North-West University, Faculty of Law

Lucy Mallinson, Lincoln Higher Education Research Institute