UK ranks sixty-sixth in “Academic Freedom Index”, lower than any other Western European country.

In a global assessment of de facto levels of academic freedom, the UK has scored worse than Peru, Burkina Faso, and Georgia. 

The Academic Freedom Index is an annual assessment of “de facto” levels of academic freedom in 179 countries, carried out by researchers at the Friedrich Alexander University and the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg. 

The Academic Freedom Index measures levels of academic freedom on five indices: 

  1. Freedom to teach and research: To what extent are scholars free to develop and pursue their own research and teaching agendas without interference? 
  1. Freedom of academic exchange and dissemination: To what extent are scholars free to communicate research ideas and findings? 
  1. Institutional autonomy: To what extent do universities exercise institutional autonomy in practice? 
  1. Campus integrity: To what extent are campuses free from politically motivated surveillance or security infringements? 
  1. Freedom of academic and cultural expression: Is there academic freedom and freedom of expression related to cultural issues? 

The index uses a statistical model to aggregate the judgements of 2329 country experts. Experts are ranked against each other in terms of their reliability in order to generate overall estimates of levels of academic freedom. The AFI caution that there is a “confidence interval” around each country’s score: actual levels of academic freedom in a country might be slightly higher or lower than reported. 

The model has previously been used by the V-Dem institute to measure levels of democracy worldwide, and the Index’s authors have published peer reviewed papers on the methodology used. Details of the methodology, and all the data and code are freely available on the Index website. 

The Academic Freedom Index Update 2024, which assesses levels of academic freedom in 2023, has now been published. The report finds that: 

Academic freedom is declining in the UK. 2023 marked the worst yet of several consecutive years of worsening academic freedom. Indeed, the UK is one of the few countries in the world where there is less academic freedom today than in 1973.  Other countries where academic freedom declined in 2023 include Russia, Belarus, Afghanistan and Venezuela.  

The UK ranks sixty-sixth globally in the table of academic freedom. The UK has the lowest level of academic freedom of any Western European country – many of which are in the top 10 per cent. It scores lower than Peru, Burkina Faso, and Georgia. 

The decline of academic freedom in the UK occurs against the backdrop of a global decline in academic freedom from a highpoint in the late eighties and early nineties. In the USA today there are also lower levels of academic freedom today than in 1973 – and the decline has been even greater than in the UK. The USA barely makes it into the top 50 per cent of the 179 countries assessed, and has lower levels of academic freedom than Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

The results of the Academic Freedom Index are shocking, and belie claims that there is no problem of academic freedom in the UK.