Is academic freedom at risk from internationalisation? Results from a 2020 survey of UK social scientists

Tena Prelec*, Saipira Furstenberg, John Heathershaw, Catarina Thomson

*Corresponding author for this work

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The question of the form that academic freedom takes and how it can be maintained in the context of the internationalisation of universities has become prominent in the UK in recent years. Both governmental and societal voices have raised concerns about perceived threats; however, much of the existing evidence is scattered and anecdotal. In October 2020, we distributed a survey in order to assess these issues. In this paper we report three main findings. First, UK social scientists express high levels of concern across a number of dimensions, from the effects of funding on research, to teaching content, to freedom of expression, and risks created by the online environment. Second, these concerns are somewhat greater in Politics, IR and Area Studies, suggesting that those disciplines which are most international in their content report greater risk. Finally, there appears to be demand for greater support. A majority of respondents did not know if guidelines existed in their department, and state that academic freedom was discussed infrequently or not at all. This suggests that institutional guidance and professional discourse have not kept pace with heightened concern. We find majority support for new legislation and even stronger support for a code of conduct.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Human Rights
Early online date24 Jan 2022
Publication statusEarly online - 24 Jan 2022


  • academic freedom
  • authoritarian influence
  • donations
  • higher education
  • internationalisation
  • neoliberal academia
  • transnational repression


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