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STOA Conference 2022 – Academic Freedom in Europe

STOA Conference 2022 – Academic Freedom in Europe

On Monday, 28th November 2022, the European Parliament hosted the high-level conference of the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) under the title: 'How to provide enforceable protection for academic freedom at the EU level?'

As a universal right, Academic freedom is recognized by various European institutions, for example, through signing on to the 2020 Bonn declaration on freedom of scientific research and the 2022 Marseille declaration on international collaboration in research and innovation. Eurodoc has a history of advocating for academic freedom as a universal right, calling out issues with academic freedom experienced among our member associations. To us Early-Career Researchers, academic freedom is an essential part of democracy, and it is a necessary requirement for quality education, teaching, and research. Moreover, by being a driver of innovation, safeguarding the right to academic freedom protects the capacity of scholars and students to acquire and generate knowledge and thereby protects societies' capacity for self-reflection. Academic Freedom is recognized by the European Union as a fundamental right. Several EU member states define the right to academic freedom in their constitutions, while others guarantee it in different parts of their law frameworks.

Similarly, universities around the world have long committed to respecting and protecting academic freedom. Nevertheless, academic freedom is still too often misunderstood, wrongfully referenced, and even under open or covert attack. Correspondingly, Academic freedom has become an issue on the European policy agenda for education and science. In order to ensure the protection of academic freedom as a shared European value, the event on Monday, November 28th, set out to facilitate further policy debate in a robust way that shall help overcome issues across Europe noticed in the previous two decades.

At the STOA high-level conference on Academic Freedom in Europe, the European Parliament's President Roberta Metsola launched the new STOA initiative, 'EP Forum for Academic Freedom,' that sets out to produce a truly independent report, an annual Academic Freedom Monitor. Several studies on the topic gave a worthwhile introduction to the following discussions among a wide variety of stakeholders across institutions and academia. During this inaugural conference of the EP’s Forum on Academic Freedom, the state of academic freedom in Europe was addressed by the EP's President, Roberta Metsola, and the Dutch Minister for Education, Culture and Science, Dr. Robbert Dijkgraaf. The event provided plenty of opportunity for discussions after the main part of the event, and Eurodoc is proud to have taken part by sending the Vice president, Dr. Sebastian Dahle, to represent the view of early-career researchers among these discussions.

The presentations included interesting insights, from the roles of scientists in our society that fall under academic freedom as a fundamental right, to its lawful implementation, from the varying definitions to the various dimensions it touches, as displayed in Corvinus University’s “onion model.” The speakers highlighted conditions of Academic freedom, which include not only self-governance and institutional autonomy but also academic labor conditions and financial conditions. Furthermore, weaknesses in existing monitoring methods were shown, identifying Academic Freedom as a “moving target,” which changes similarly as academia and society do. 

Further information on the conference, as well as a recording of the web stream, are available on the website of the European Parliament via https://www.europarl.europa.eu/stoa/en/events/details/how-to-provide-enforceable-protection-fo/20221103WKS04661 

Oleksandr Berezko, Eurodoc President: “Eurodoc is the European Early Career Researchers representative and advocates for improving their conditions, particularly regarding Academic Freedom. While the working environments and regulations regarding PhD candidates and junior researchers differ across Europe, Eurodoc is committed to their full recognition as professionals, with academia being their workplace. Thus, Academic Freedom concerns all the ECRs as well as all the other academics. Currently, the Eurodoc community is working on a Statement on Academic Freedom, which will formulate our organisation's position.”

Sebastian Dahle, Vice-President of Eurodoc: “Academic freedom is seen by some as an abstract concept, but in numerous interactions with our peers, we see the direct consequences whenever individuals are not empowered to exercise this fundamental right. Many such examples remain widely unnoticed, and we commend the European Parliament for this effort in monitoring and providing enforceable protection for academic freedom.”