Openness challenged: the university at risk?

Universities are seen as core institutions of an open society, a condition and foundation for open, democratic, fair and sustainable societies, by nurturing human talent and independent knowledge creation and dissemination. They increasingly subscribe to the principles of open science as to conduct research in open connection with society.

Current activities: Academic Freedom Series

Academic freedom is under threat around the world, including Europe. Rising trends in illiberalism and authoritarianism threaten universities as institutions of open societies. Their autonomy as a condition to uphold academic freedom in teaching and research is weakened as a result of political, financial, and social pressures. How can universities resist these challenges? 

Challenges such as these require to advance our understanding of academic freedom, and the trends and mechanisms that put it at risk. The Institutions for Open Societies (IOS) Platform Openness Challenged: University at Risk? has launched a series of dialogues to tackle these burning questions.

More information on the Academic Freedom Series
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More on the platform

Openness, open borders, an open higher education system, is recognized as a necessary condition for universities to compete and collaborate internationally, to contribute to an open society, to global challenges, and the public good. However, openness cannot any longer be taken for granted in the changing global context. Rising geo-political tensions, conflict, security concerns, and illiberal trends jeopardize institutional autonomy, academic freedom and weaken the university’s ability to play its role as a core institution of the open society. In particular the EU, a strong proponent of openness, is being challenged by a shifting globalization paradigm, weakened multilateralism, and internal tensions, all putting the values of an open society under pressure, and potentially, the university at risk. With a view to the multi-level governance reality of the EU in the wider global context, the Platform, as part of the strategic theme Institutions for Open Societies, will work the key question out along three lines of inquiry.

Key question(s)

How can the university, its institutional autonomy and associated duty to protect academic freedom, be upheld and enhanced in a world in which openness is being challenged and the core values of an open society are under siege?

Legal-policy dimension

  • What role and responsibilities do institutions at various levels of governance in the EU (EC, members states) have in this respect and how are these divided and coordinated?
  • Is the EU sufficiently equipped to protect the university, its institutional autonomy, and in particular academic freedom as it is enshrined in the CFREU (art 13)? Both against internal and external threats?

Historical perspective

  • How can universities face the challenges to their autonomy and academic freedom and stand firm to defend the values of an open society, system and global cooperation?
  • What can be learned from the past; were universities (always) on the right side of history (e.g. the colonial past)?
  • What when books are banned or burned, or authors are being cancelled?

Educational challenge

  • How to prepare students for the 21st century?
  • Are students sufficiently aware of the virtues and values of an open society? Do they know enough about their hard-won history?
  • Are they ready to face the global reality and to sustain them into a future in which western universalism is being challenged

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