Britain blocks tenure resolution

November 21, 1997

BRITAIN and Australia have refused to support a Unesco declaration aimed at protecting academic tenure in higher education.

The text, approved by the organisation's 186 member countries during its general conference, proclaims that tenure "constitutes one of the major procedural safeguards of academic freedom and against arbitrary decisions".

It says job security ensures that teaching personnel "can only be dismissed on professional grounds and according to due process", but goes on to point out that they "may be released for bona fide financial reasons". It concludes that security of employment "should be safeguarded as far as possible, even when changes in the organisation of or within a higher education institution or system are made, and should be granted after a reasonable period of probation to those who meet stated objective criteria".

Britain, which only rejoined the organisation last May after a 12-year absence, expressed strong support for the aims of securing academic freedom and human rights for higher education staff, but argued that the text "appears to go, in such great detail, into areas that are properly the responsibility of individual members states".

Supported by Australia, Britain "reluctantly" placed a reservation on the text, saying it overstepped the boundaries of responsibilities of individual member states.

The text on tenure is part of a broader declaration on the status of higher education teaching personnel, covering areas including rights, duties, and freedoms of higher education teachers.

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