Lecturers fight for freedom

October 16, 1998

The biggest international gathering on higher education ever took place in Paris last week. David Jobbins reports on how participants saw their role

Leaders of lecturers' professional organisations and trade unions tried to fight off what they saw as a deliberate attempt to leave Unesco's public statements on university autonomy and academic freedom in confusion.

William Graham, president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said a paper tabled by the International Association of Universities for inclusion in the declaration was much weaker than the 1997 Unesco recommendation.

This expressly supports university teachers' academic, civil and political freedoms of expression - issues delegates said were far from academic in countries such as Serbia and Belarus, or in the Far East. The IAU proposals were virtually restricted to academics' research.

Justin Thorens, president of the IAU and chair of the session, suggested that Unesco should be requested to set up a working group to prepare an "instrument" which would take account of the 1997 recommendation, the IAU proposals and the comments during the debate. This proposal was carried by assent without a vote.

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