Historic Publications

Is Academic Freedom Under Threat?

Academic Freedom has long been central to prosperity in the UK and around the world. Yet our findings suggest there are good reasons to be concerned about the extent to which it is being preserved and promoted by our world-leading universities.

Academic freedom — the ability of scholars to express and explore ideas without the risk of professional disadvantage — has long been considered central to higher education, the search for truth and the spread of prosperity. Now more than ever, as we are faced with rising levels of polarisation, the freedom to explore a wide range of ideas without fear of negative consequences is critical for dynamic societies and viewpoint diversity.

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Despite significant support for the principle of academic freedom and free expression within academia, it is argued by people from across the political spectrum that academic freedom and freedom of expression more generally are under threat from a variety of factors including a growing ideological imbalance on university campuses, ‘self-censoring’ from both academics and students with nonconformist perspectives, and a priority of student satisfaction over academic freedom.

To further explore these factors and to gain insights around the perspectives and experiences of academics, Legatum Institute fellow Matthew Goodwin led a new and unique survey of academics who are currently working in some of the world’s leading universities in four democracies: Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He presents his findings here in our latest report: Is Academic Freedom Under Threat?

The survey explores the political orientation of academics by discipline, their views toward a range of social and cultural issues, and their views toward different groups in society. It also asks participants about freedom of expression, academic freedom, and the extent to which, if at all, students should be exposed to uncomfortable or offensive ideas on campus and the influence of ideological claims on campus.

In addition to presenting analysis on the survey results, our report also throws further light on the issue by constructing the Academic Freedom Index to identify the groups and areas where support for limiting academic freedom is most pronounced.

Download the report below for the full presentation of the survey findings and the Academic Freedom Index.

Download the report