UNESCO: Academic Freedom and the Right to Education

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts the right to education. At its 1997 Paris meeting, the UNESCO General Conference declared academic freedom essential to education, teaching, and research, and, accordingly, adopted a fairly lengthy “Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel.”

That Recommendation lists among its guiding principles that:

Advances in higher education, scholarship and research depend largely on infrastructure and resources, both human and material, and on the qualifications and expertise of higher-education teaching personnel as well as on their human, pedagogical and technical qualities, underpinned by academic freedom, professional responsibility, collegiality and institutional autonomy. (RSHETP III.5)

The Recommendation goes on to assert that academic freedom depends on autonomous (V.A.17-18) and accountable (V.B.22.c,k and V.B.24) post-secondary institutions. It also draws important connections between academic freedom and collegial governance (VI.B.32), and academic freedom and security of employment (IX.B.45). [In general, I don’t want to offer much commentary on this blog. However, I’ll insert myself here to note that as universities become increasingly managerial and as university scholarship is increasingly done by precarious employees, scholars would do well to draw on this UNESCO Recommendation in defence of collegial governance and employment security.]

Interestingly, the Recommendation’s discussion of the duties and responsibilities (VII) associated with academic freedom is just as long as the section on  rights and freedoms (VI).

Here’s the first paragraph of that latter section:

Higher-education teaching personnel should recognize that the exercise of rights carries with it special duties and responsibilities, including the obligation to respect the academic freedom of other members of the academic community and to ensure the fair discussion of contrary views. Academic freedom carries with it the duty to use that freedom in a manner consistent with the scholarly obligation to base research on an honest search for truth. Teaching, research and scholarship should be conducted in full accordance with ethical and professional standards and should, where appropriate, respond to contemporary problems facing society as well as preserve the historical and cultural heritage of the world. (VII.33)

Check out the whole UNESCO Recommendation here. It’s worth the read.