September 03, 2008

About academic freedom...

This article raises two critical issues regarding academic freedom. First, following the 1988 Education Reform Act, UK academics no longer have tenure. Consequently, they may be unwilling to report academic fraud and misconduct for fear that they will loose their jobs. On the 17 June 2008 the BBC Website featured an article entitled "Whistleblower Warning on Degrees", in which a UK academic at a world-famous UK university, stated that postgraduate degrees are awarded to students lacking in the most basic language skills (See at

Following from this article, the BBC received hundreds of emails from students and academics at other universities confirming that this practice was widespread (see at However as was reported in a subsequent BBC article: "Students: Customers or learners?" (see at most of the academics who reported this academic corruption to the BBC had to do so anonymously, as they do not have tenure, and hence do not have academic freedom and were afraid to speak out freely about the decline in standards.

When compared with other EU states, the UK has the lowest level of protection for academic freedom (see at: which means that corruption is less likely to be reported in the U.K., than in other EU states.

Second, in the majority of nations both academic freedom and, more importantly, its limits, lack a precise definition, which means that the concept is open to abuse –such as false reporting of data, or unjustifiably claiming authorship of academic publications which were written by others. Consequently, in a forthcoming journal article in Higher Education Policy, I have contended that a working definition of academic freedom is required which goes beyond traditional discussions of the rights of academic staff and specifies, not only the rights inherent in the concept, but also its accompanying duties, necessary limitations and safeguards.

With respect to the dissemination of research results, I have argued that “In exercising academic freedom, staff must ensure that, as agreed by their academic peers and relevant academic associations and professional bodies, their research outputs:

(A) accurately and honestly report the full results of their research and are not subject to plagiarism, forgery, misleading manipulation or partial reporting of research data and results;
(B) acknowledge fully and fairly the relative direct and indirect contributions of co- and joint authors, academic colleagues and other people and organisations (including sponsors) involved in the research;
(C) do not compromise the anonymity of research participants, co-researchers and sponsoring bodies, breach personal or institutional confidentiality, or infringe intellectual property rights agreements.” The adoption of such a definition among universities would do much to curb the (apparently) rising tide of fraud in academia.

In a recent article in Higher Education Quarterly, Professor Sir David Watson posed the question “Does Higher Education Need a Hippocratic Oath?”, the answer would seem to be “yes – and as soon as possible”

By Terence Karran, from:

No comments: