By Ronin Research Scholar Maria Jakubik
I have spent more than half of my life living in Finland, but I have studied at five and taught at nine universities across Austria, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, the UK, and the USA. Here is an interesting situation I would like to share with you. Recently, I came across a blog written by Professor Ryder (2022) who is based in Hungary, which is my home country. The blog was titled ‘The Challenge to Academic Freedom in Hungary: Authoritarianism, Culture War and Resistance’. When reading it, I understood the huge differences between academic freedom I experienced during working more than two decades in higher education in Finland and what Professor Ryder was experiencing in Hungary. These differences are proved by the Democracy Report (2022, pp. 46-47) published by V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg. Based on the 2021 version of the Liberal Democracy Index (LDI), Finland is ranked 8th whilst Hungary is ranked 91st among the 202 countries examined by over 3,700 scholars and country experts.
Matthews (2022) identifies three main evolutionary modes of universities: the elite ivory tower, being a typical form in the enlightenment era; the mass factory, the dominating form during the industrial revolution and knowledge economy; and the universal network mode, as a present form of the universities. The elite ivory tower university targeted small groups of elites of the society and aimed at knowledge in itself. The mass factory university is highly structured, scientific, and well-organized for mass education. The universal network university focuses on economic contributions, efficiency of education, costs, personalization of education, and on advancing individual goals, employability, careers, and salary maximization. Democracy and academic freedom are highly related as universities are integral parts of society. Nowadays, the world faces global problems like climate action failure, extreme weather, biodiversity loss, social cohesion erosion, livelihood crises, infectious diseases, human environmental damage, natural resource crisis, debt crises, and geoeconomics confrontation (WEF, 2022, p. 14).
we face a dark reality … “35 countries suffered significant deteriorations in freedom of expression at the hands of governments”, a significant increase from just 5 countries in 2011… more than 20% of the EU countries (including Hungary) suffer from autocratization.Democracy Report (2022, p. 6, 18)
Thus, universities cannot be ivory towers and focus only on academic knowledge production, and dealing with scientific, and disciplinary knowledge. Philosopher Nicholas Maxwell argues: “I have devoted much of my working life to arguing that we need to bring about a revolution in academia so that it promotes wisdom and does not just acquire knowledge” (Maxwell, 2022). Universities and academia more broadly, including new loci of learning and knowledge production such as IGDORE, COURSERA, the Ronin Institute, the GiLE Foundation, and others, should contribute solutions to the worldwide problems (Maxwell, 2019). Similarly, Barnett (1994) argues that “Higher education has begun to show a paradigm shift in reorienting its knowledge functions, its research projects, its curricula and its wider mission towards the wider society” (Barnett, 1994, p. 20). Indeed, educating students for life by providing students with academic, operational, and emancipatory (life-world becoming) competences are of the utmost importance (Jakubik, 2022).
Society impacts universities and universities impact society. They should listen to each other. Therefore, freedom of speech in academia is important. However, we face a dark reality as the Democracy Report (2022, p. 6) argues, “35 countries suffered significant deteriorations in freedom of expression at the hands of governments”, a significant increase from just 5 countries in 2011. Furthermore, the Democracy Report (2022, p.18) claims that more than 20% of the EU countries (including Hungary) suffer from autocratization. The Freedom of Expression Index (FEI) ranks 20 indicators that declined during the period of 2011-2021 (Democracy Report, 2022, Figure 7, p. 17). The top 5 declining indicators of the FEI are: (1) government censorship effort – media; (2) harassment of journalists; (3) freedom of academic and cultural expression; (4) freedom of discussion of women, and (5) media self-censorship.
Freedom of educators in higher education is often threatened and hindered internally by university leaders, managers, and administrators. External threats include educational policy makers of governments, state, society, politics, economics, and the natural environment. The Academic Freedom Index (AFI) has five key indicators, namely “(1) the freedom to research and teach; (2) the freedom of academic exchange and dissemination; (3) the institutional autonomy of universities; (4) campus integrity, and (5) the freedom of academic and cultural expression” (Kinzelbach & Pelke, 2022, p. 8). Moreover, there is “a substantial and statistically significant decline in academic freedom in 19 cases, with improvements registered in only two cases compared with 2011. Thirty-seven percent of the world’s population live in these 19 countries and territories with major recent drops in academic freedom” and “the decline in academic freedom accompanies an accelerating and deepening wave of autocratization” (Kinzelbach & Pelke, 2022, p. 1).
Academic freedom matters because achieving goodness, truth, and beauty as basic values in human life requires freedom. Freedom means having unlimited access to knowledge, thinking freely, challenging existing wisdom, having choices, making your own decisions, and acting based on personal knowledge, values, and moral principles. Freedom is fundamental in universities to pursue their mission and to cultivate values for what academia stands for including openness, creativity, prosperity, democracy, autonomy, emancipation and liberation. However, we need to stand up for freedom in academia, like students of the University of Theatre and Film Arts (SZFE) and their sympathizers have done in central Budapest, Hungary, in September 2020. They protested against changes to the way their university is governed and they insisted that their university had lost its autonomy. Despite these negative trends and attempts to control democracy and freedom of academic and cultural expression, it is essential that academic freedom is preserved.
Academic freedom matters for the future of the world. Millennials (also referred to as Gen Y) were born between January 1983 and December 1994, whilst Generation Z (shortened to Gen Z) were born between January 1995 and December 2003 (Deloitte, 2021, p. 5). Millennials represent 23% of the global population, are the most educated cohort, and are increasingly the most influential too (Neufeld, 2021). It has been predicted that by 2025 Millennials will account for 75% of the global workforce (What to Become, 2021). Future generations, including Gen Z, will face wicked problems in a chaotic, complex, and interconnected world.
Academic freedom matters because universities are places where the identities of young people are formed. Therefore, universities need to focus on developing emancipatory competences in addition to technical and hermeneutic competences in their students. Emancipatory competences require: (1) reflective knowing – accepting multiple knowledge to understand the world better; (2) dealing with open-ended situations – being able to take up alternative perspectives; (3) focusing on dialogue and arguments; (4) transferability – a metacritique state of mind, attitude of ‘passionate skepticism’ helping personal emancipation; (5) metalearning – lifelong learning, a willingness critically to examine one’s learning, learning from mistakes, learning about oneself; (6) dialogical communication; (7) consensus building – dialogical communication, constant seeking for truth, values, ethics, sensitivity to people and nature; (8) value orientation – common good defined based on open dialogue and consensus; (9) movable boundary conditions – capability to operate in the world, widening the conditions of discourse, practicality of discourse, and (10) critique – aiming to improve our understanding, aiming to understand ourselves (Barnett, 1994, pp. 178-185).
Academic freedom matters because achieving goodness, truth, and beauty as basic values in human life requires freedom. Freedom means having unlimited access to knowledge, thinking freely, challenging existing wisdom, having choices, making your own decisions, and acting based on personal knowledge, values, and moral principles.
Academic freedom matters because otherwise it will be impossible to develop competences for future generations who will be tasked with creating a better world for everyone. I concur with Newell (2018, p. 88), “Without academic freedom, we cannot properly pursue our creative and scholarly objectives or be about the important work of defining and refining our personal and social values”. Where there is academic freedom of expression, people can be themselves, have free access to knowledge, be free to think, have choices, be free to make their own decisions, and be free to act based on knowledge, values, and their own moral principles.
Acknowledgement: I thank Dr William E. Donald, Associate Professor of Sustainable Careers and Human Resource Management at the University of Southampton, UK and Research Scholar at the Ronin Institute, USA for helping me to make my text more readable for native speakers. I also thank Alex Lancaster, Research Scholar at the Ronin Institute, for his support in finalizing my text.
- Barnett, R. (1994). The Limits of Competence: Knowledge, Higher Education and Society. Buckingham, UK: The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.
- Deloitte (2021). A call for accountability and action. The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey. accessed: 21.07.2022.
- Democracy Report 2022 (2022). Autocratization Changing Nature? V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg, March 2022. , accessed: 27.07.2022.
- Kinzelbach, K., & Pelke, L. (2022). Academic Freedom Index. Update 2022. March 2022. DOI: 10.25593/opus4-fau-18612, accessed: 22.07.2022.
- Jakubik, M. (2022). Educating for Life in Higher Education. 3rd Ferenc Farkas International Scientific Conference Proceedings, University of Pécs, Vol. 3, pp. 21-31. accessed: 19.07.2022.
- Matthews, A. (2022). The Mode 3 Networked University: A New Materialist Perspective. Proceedings for the Thirteenth International Conference on Networked Learning 2022. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3783
- Maxwell, N. (2019). How Wisdom Can Help Solve Global Problems. In Sternberg, R., Nusbaum, H., Glueck, J. (Eds.), Applying wisdom to contemporary world problems. (pp. 337-380). London: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Maxwell, N. (2022). Web site at University of London (UCL).
- Neufeld, D. (2021). There are 1.8 billion millennials on earth. Here’s where they live. World Economic Forum, accessed: 25.07.2022.
- Newell, L. J. (2018). En Route: Toward a Philosophy and Practice of Liberal Education. In Aron Stoller & Eli Kramer (Eds.) (2018). Contemporary Philosophical Proposals for the University. Toward a Philosophy of Higher Education. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, Chapter 5, pp. 81-102.
- Ryder, A. (2022). The Challenge to Academic Freedom in Hungary: Authoritarianism, Culture War and Resistance, May 17, 2022. accessed: 27.07.2022.
- WEF (2022). The Global Risks Report 2022. 17th Edition, World Economic Forum, p. 14. Accessed: 21.07.2022.
- What to Become (2021). 25 Stats About Millennials in the Workplace. accessed: 17.07.2022.
Maria Jakubik is an Honorary Associate Professor of the University of Pècs, Hungary and a member of The Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ External Public Body. She has more than two decades of experience in the Finnish higher education. She is an active research scholar of the Ronin Institute, USA, member of the International Council on Knowledge Management (ICKM), Austria, and the Philosophy and Theory of Higher Education Society (PaTHES), UK. Her current research focuses on higher education and university pedagogy.
This post is a perspective of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Ronin Institute.