ESEP 15:39-47 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00157

AS I SEE IT
The erosion of academic freedom in UK higher education

Anna Traianou*

Department of Educational Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, SE14 6NW, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: In this article, I treat ‘academic freedom’ as referring to the autonomy that academics need if they are to do their work well, on analogy with what is required in other professional occupations. In these terms, I argue that there are 2 aspects of academic freedom: the degree of autonomy that universities have from governments, and the autonomy that academics have within universities. Using this framework, I explore how, from the 1980s onwards, UK governments have increasingly intervened in higher education, on the basis of the assumption that universities must serve the economy, seeking to maximize and measure the ‘returns’ on public investment. I argue that these external developments have promoted internal changes within universities away from collegial modes of organization and towards more managerial ones, and as a result have significantly reduced academic freedom. I conclude by briefly examining developments in the UK in terms of a rather different conception of academic freedom, one that is currently quite influential, which virtually identifies it with ‘free speech’ for academics and students.


KEY WORDS: Academic freedom · Neoliberalism · New public management · UK higher education · Professionalism · Free speech


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Cite this article as: Traianou A (2015) The erosion of academic freedom in UK higher education. Ethics Sci Environ Polit 15:39-47. https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00157

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