Academics urged to engage in academic freedom survey

The first part of major research into “Building Academic Freedom and Democracy in Africa” has revealed that 14 African countries have explicit reference to academic freedom in their constitutions. Now academics across the continent are being called on to participate in a survey of academic freedom norms and practices on the ground.

According to Dr Kwadwo Appiagyei-Atua, a Ghanaian researcher at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom, “academic freedom has had a chequered history in the life of higher education in Africa since the time of independence in the late 1950s.

“In reaction, African scholars came up with the Kampala Declaration on Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility in 1990 to guide their governments to respect the basic tenets of academic freedom.”

Since then, two reports on academic freedom have been commissioned – by Human Rights Watch in 1991 and by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa in 1996. “However, none of these reports looked beyond 16 of the 55 independent states on the continent and no further reports have been issued.”

The research

To undertake a comprehensive review of academic freedom in all 55 African states, Professor Terence Karran and Appiagyei-Atua in 2013 won a European Union Marie Curie fellowship to undertake the "Building Academic Freedom and Democracy in Africa", or BAFADIA, project at the University of Lincoln.

Appiagyei-Atua said that the project involved measuring the health of academic freedom in African higher education by reviewing the laws of each country “to determine the extent to which they comply with the four pillars of academic freedom enshrined in the 1997 ILO-UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel, which all African States have signed up to”.

“This aspect of the project has been completed and interesting findings have been unearthed regarding how far African states have come in seeking to reintroduce and or reinforce the ethos and principles of academic freedom in university administration and governance.”

“For example, it is revealed that 14 African countries now have explicit reference to academic freedom in their constitutions,” said Appiagyei-Atua.

“Using the four pillars of academic freedom in addition to whether a country’s constitution recognises academic freedom, the work has produced a ranking system of academic freedom in Africa, based on whether a country is ‘free’, ‘partially free’ and ‘not free’.

“Among the countries that come on top of the rank are Cape Verde, Ghana, Seychelles and South Africa who score 100%. The results are to be published in higher education journals and on a website being developed for this purpose.”

The survey

But laws alone do not tell the full story, Appiagyei-Atua continued. “Institutional, departmental and other norms and practices do prevail in higher education institutions which may tell a different story from what the law says.”

For instance, some countries had constitutions that explicitly recognise academic freedom but still scored poorly on the four indicators described in the ILO-UNESCO document.

“Therefore, the second phase of the project is to undertake a de facto survey to identify any gaps between what the law says and what pertains on the ground.”

The empirical survey is being conducted online in English here and in French here, so as to cover both Anglophone and Francophone academics in Africa who teach in public universities. Academics in Lusophone countries may participate in the survey through either site.

“The project will later extend to private universities.”

Appiagyei-Atua encouraged academics in public universities to complete the survey, which he said takes 15 to 20 minutes to do. The deadline for completing the survey is 31 May 2015.