Researcher launches academic freedom initiative at Parliament

A Lancaster University researcher joined a Parliament roundtable on protecting academic freedom amid new challenges such as emerging digital technologies, the COVID-19 pandemic and growing geopolitical tensions.

At Parliament on Wednesday, a group of UK academics, including Lancaster’s Dr Andrew Chubb, launched a set of guidelines designed to help universities navigate such challenges.

Dr Chubb, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow, is a member of the Academic Freedom and Internationalisation Working Group which has published a Model Code of Conduct for the Protection of Academic Freedom in the Context of the Internationalisation.

The Model Code provides universities with a set of principles and practices for managing risks to academic freedom as they pursue international collaboration.

It elaborates ten key principles and offers best-practice recommendations covering international partnerships, funding, fieldwork, and supporting international staff and students.

The Parliamentary roundtable launch featured speakers from the Department for Education, Universities UK International (UUKi), and senior managers from the Universities of Sheffield and Edinburgh, joined by MPs and Peers including Baroness Frances D’Souza and Baron Jo Johnson.

Dr Chubb said the Code was an initiative of academics around the UK that aimed to provide their institutions with a framework for systematically managing risks to academic freedom, safety and reputation as they pursue internationalisation.

“The basic reality is that many if not most partner countries for UK higher education have much lower levels of protection for academic freedom, or may not recognise the principle at all,” said Dr Chubb, who researches China’s foreign relations in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion.

“The question we’re addressing with the code is what to do about that – do you simply disengage from all but the most familiar democracies? Or are there principles and practices that can be put into action to eliminate, offset or mitigate the risks as we engage around the world?”

Dr Chubb said the group hoped that broad endorsement and use of the code by universities would help avoid government legislative interventions that ‘tend to be heavy-handed and further undermine academic freedom and institutional autonomy’.

He said the code was ‘not a one-size-fits-all approach’, but that several universities had already found it useful in developing their approaches to internationalisation.

“It offers a way for universities to think through and manage risks to academic freedom systematically, and ultimately place their international partnerships and educational exchange on a sustainable footing,” he added.

The Academic Freedom and Internationalisation Working Group (AFIWG) was formed in September 2019 by academics from universities around the UK, with support from the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA), the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (APPHRG) and funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.

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