London Principles for Academic Freedom Launched

Friday 10th May saw the launch of the London Principles for Academic Freedom. 

The London Universities’ Council for Academic Freedom (LUCAF) is a non-partisan, academic led organisation which works to support academic freedom. It was founded in November 2023 and has developed and submitted responses to consultations on both the proposed format of the Research Excellence Framework 2029, and the Office for Students’ new free speech complaints scheme. LUCAF is currently working to produce guidance for universities on protecting academic freedom in light of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023. 

The London Principles for Academic Freedom were developed by LUCAF. Their launch on Friday 10th May was co-sponsored by LUCAF and the Committee for Academic Freedom. The principles were created in consultation with LUCAF’s members, and aim to “define a consensus view of the basic principles of academic freedom”. 

The principles are valuable as a clear statement of what universities must do if they are to protect academic freedom. Significantly, they consider not only what universities must do if they are not to restrict academic freedom – for instance, not sack staff for expressing their views – but also how best to promote a culture of academic freedom. Universities, the principles contend, must uphold “the pursuit of knowledge and truth” as the core purpose of research and teaching. This constitutes the central mission of the university, and “other goals of the university should always be subservient to this central academic mission”. A university’s commitment to this mission can be protected through “democratic governance by the community of academics” where “no arm of the university administration [is] empowered to restrict academic freedom”. 

The principles draw on the Kalven Report and CAF’s three principles of academic freedom. They are a valuable tool in the campaign to protect academic freedom. They should be adopted by all UK universities.