Academics believe universities should refusing funding from foreign organisations, individuals or nations linked with human rights concerns, a survey of over 1,500 social scientists based in UK universities shows.
Three quarters – 75 per cent – of those who participated in the research said academics in UK universities should not accept money from foreign entities or governments who do not respect human rights.
The poll was conducted by academics from the universities of Exeter and Oxford in association with the Academic Freedom and Internationalisation Working Group (AFIWG).
Draft code of conduct for universities
The AFIWG has written a draft model code of conduct to assist universities in the UK to develop relevant policies. Most respondents (over 60%) said they favour the adoption of such a code of conduct within their institution.
However, there was also a great deal of uncertainty from respondents, with a significant number answering ‘don’t know’ to the question about a new code, the researchers reported.
Furthermore, 65% declared that they didn’t know whether their departments had guidelines on academic freedom.
More concern about academic freedom
“The issue of foreign interference in UK universities is complex and this research shows people have wide-ranging concerns about external, and especially internal, attempts to curb academic freedom,” said Professor John Heathershaw from the University of Exeter and the AFIWG, who led the research.
These figures reveal heightened concern about academic freedom, with around 70% of social scientists saying they considered it to be under threat at UK universities.
A total of 39% expressed concern about the freedom of academics to conduct research without commercial or political interference, while 30% felt academic freedom was under threat from institutional censorship.
Pressure felt by academics to self-censor
The extent to which academics feel pressure to self-censor deserves greater attention, the researchers noted.
While a strong majority (73%) said they do not self-censor when teaching students from autocratic states, about one in five (20%) said they did. About one in six (15%) said they self-censored when reporting fieldwork findings.
Most of those who took part in the study – 58% – said the nationality of their students did not have an impact on the content of their teaching, approximately one in four (23%) said it did.