Il 23 maggio scorso è stato pubblicato un documento dell’European Trade Union Committee for Education che denuncia le minacce a cui è sottoposta la libertà accademica nel settore universitario e della ricerca, nonché il deterioramento delle condizioni lavorative e di vita, anche a causa di tagli e congelamenti dei salari:
ETUCE is deeply concerned about the implementation of the Bologna Process and the future of the European Higher Education Area. […] ETUCE member organisations regularly report about deterioration of the supporting environment to staff in higher education. “We regret to see that in Europe, employees in the higher education and research sector continue to face threats to their academic freedom, and the teachers and researchers in the sector suffer from deteriorating working and living conditions, including salary freezes and cuts” – said Susan Flocken, European director of ETUCE related to the Paris Ministerial Meeting.
Therefore, we call (click here) the ministers for structural changes in higher education and research to support teachers and researchers for the sake of a successful future for the Bologna Process. In our Call and in our Report (click here) published for the attention of the ministers, we present four demands concerning the future of the Bologna Process and:• The better protection of academic freedom as one of the fundamental values of the Bologna process;• The importance of greater core public investment in higher education and research;• The need to ensure a supportive working environment for staff, including improved job security and working conditions, and• A call for better recognition of teaching in higher education.
Given its importance, ETUCE is very concerned about the erosion of academic freedom across the EHEA. The most serious assault is in Turkey, where thousands of academic and administrative personnel have been targeted for dismissal from their posts. In addition to the mass firings of university staff, fifteen private universities have been closed and hundreds of academics and students detained in the crackdown by the Turkish authorities. More recently, criminal charges have commenced against hundreds of academics for signing a petition calling for peace negotiations in South Eastern Turkey5.
There has also been a major assault on institutional autonomy and academic freedom by an EU member state, most notably with the attempt by the Hungarian government to try to shut down the operations of the Central European University in Budapest. The European Commission has recently referred the Hungarian government’s Higher Education Law to the European Court of Justice, partly on the grounds that it violates the right of academic freedom and the right to education under the charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union6.
In addition, ETUCE believes that academic freedom across the EHEA has been undermined by the marketisation of higher education, via the greater use of performance-based funding, the corporatisation of university governance and further requirements to seek private sector sources of income. For example, an increasingly selective and economistic research funding model has put pressure on academics to research in a narrower range of applied and technically-oriented disciplines and project areas, while the growing commercialisation of research can restrict the timely dissemination of findings into the public domain. As Professor Nelly Stromquist has argued7 :
“A collateral effect of this is that important disciplines, particularly the social sciences and the humanities/arts, are receiving less attention. It is feared that the slow marginalization of fields that promote self-reflection and critique of contemporary existence is not conducive to the development of social and cohesive society.”
A weakening of protections for academic freedom has occurred in a range of different European countries, including in Western and Northern Europe. For example, an EU-funded study identifies countries such as Hungary, Estonia, United Kingdom (UK), Malta and Denmark as having the weakest legislative and constitutional protections for academic freedom within the EU8.