We are living in a time when the institutional autonomy and academic freedom of universities are being restricted by political actions in several European countries. This unfortunate development is fuelled by controlling the funding of universities and threatening and pressuring the academic community with political aims, which is simply unacceptable.
The right of the academic community to self-define its targets for research and teaching has been considerably weakened in recent years across Europe. We have seen an increase in the commercialisation of education and changes in legislation that give the state direct control over where to direct research funding. The value of research and education cannot be determined by productivity or political goals.
The freedom of science, research and education is the best way to generate new knowledge and find solutions to the challenges that our societies are facing. Higher education and research should be seen as public goods, but also as public responsibilities – which is why the adequate public and independent funding of higher education must be secured across Europe.
University staff and students have also been directly exposed to threats and violence within the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). There has also been hate speech targeted at researchers and students in Finland. Free research, teaching and studying must be a part of the inviolable rights of every member of the academic community.
Free movement is also a core value of the European Higher Education Area. As long as students, teachers and researchers are forced to restrict their movement within the Higher Education Area because of fear of consequences, the European Higher Education Area will have failed in one of its key duties. In a world where fake news and opposition to science are commonplace, the movement and freedom of information must be safeguarded.
Academic freedom protects science, research and education that benefit democracy, culture and humanity. It includes the right to teach, research and study freely. The key values of the European Higher Education Area are academic freedom, institutional autonomy, a free student movement, and the free movement of students and staff.
A European Higher Education Area where students are imprisoned for their opinions is not committed to its core values. The SYL General Assembly demands the member states of the European Higher Education Area to put these values into practice and to exclude states that violate these values. In accordance with the Rome Communiqué, Finland has the responsibility to promote the realisation of academic freedom. Finland must work to safeguard the human rights of academic students and staff throughout the European Higher Education Area.
Sanni Lehtinen, 044 906 5007 & sanni.lehtinen(a)syl.fi
Maria Nyroos, 040 753 9099 & maria.nyroos(a)syl.fi
International Affairs and EU Lobbying Adviser