A sense of freedom 1

October 12, 2007

I am grateful that The Times Higher has raised the issue of the parlous state of academic freedom in the UK when compared with other European Union states via its coverage of my article in the journal Higher Education Policy ("UK lowest on freedom list", September 28).

However, first, I did not say in my paper that the 1988 Educational Reform Act removed tenure from staff at the former polytechnics. Indeed, I stated categorically that "the old polytechnics that were granted university status in 1992 were exempt (from the ERA), as their staff did not have tenure".

Second, to take up the point of my research failing to take into account "strong cultural protections not explicitly set out in laws" and Conor Gearty's comment that "it is important to distinguish between formal constitutional law and how it was implemented" - my paper's title was "Academic freedom in Europe: A preliminary comparative analysis", and I state in the conclusion that "legal documents provide the quantitative 'bare bones' of academic freedom, but what is also required is a qualitative analysis of how these legal documents are interpreted within the everyday interactions of academic staff".

I have applied for Economic and Social Research Council funding to investigate fully the veracity of Gearty's statement that "practice on the ground often reveals a stronger cultural commitment to freedom than is apparent from perusal of the laws". Until this research is undertaken, his statement is debatable opinion, not fact.

Terence Karran
Centre for Educational Research and Development, Lincoln University

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