Managerial era 'threatens' academic freedom

February 3, 2011

There is a "vast" amount of litigation concerning academic freedom in the US, while in the UK there is "virtually none".

Yet in the latter, according to Eric Barendt, emeritus professor of media law at University College London, "the concept is incorporated into university charters and implied terms of contracts, at least in the pre-1992 universities".

However, Professor Barendt believes that academic freedom in the UK is threatened by the "managerial culture of universities, the quality assurance and research assessment culture, and the pressures on academics to produce safe scholarly articles that shy away from the big questions and only move the argument forward by an inch".

He added that some scientific and medical research may be inhibited by researchers' funding contracts, something that "can represent a serious threat to academic freedom".

Professor Barendt was speaking after the launch of his latest book, Academic Freedom and the Law: A Comparative Study, in which he considers the nature, extent and possible rationales of academic freedom; whether the right extends to extramural speech; restrictions on freedom of research; and the challenges of the "age of terrorism".

Also speaking at the launch event last week, Malcolm Grant, provost of UCL, noted that academic freedom was a phrase sometimes used to justify "eccentric activity", even attacks on university management - "although if universities can't accept robust criticism, who can?"

The arrest of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a former UCL student, for attempting to blow up an aircraft on Christmas Day 2009 had led to a media outcry and claims that "the senior management at UCL had been too liberal and were personally complicit", Professor Grant added. Yet he supported people's right to "expose controversial, even offensive ideas in an environment where they can be challenged".

Professor Barendt said he believed that the freedom of academics to teach and research what they want tends to be promoted by universities' institutional autonomy and the remnants of academic self-rule within them.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Daniel Mitchell illustration (29 June 2017)

Academics who think they can do the work of professional staff better than professional staff themselves are not showing the kind of respect they expect from others

As the pay of BBC on-air talent is revealed, one academic comes clean about his salary

A podium constructed out of wood

There are good reasons why some big names are missing from our roster

Senior academics at Teesside University put at risk of redundancy as summer break gets under way

Thorns and butterflies

Conditions that undermine the notion of scholarly vocation – relentless work, ubiquitous bureaucracy – can cause academics acute distress and spur them to quit, says Ruth Barcan