Sunday, 2 December 2007

Academic Freedom

The debate on freedom of speech once again sparks debate in and on education. Once more the word freedom is tossed wantonly around as controversial figures take to the podium at Oxford or wherever to voice their perspectives. It is the controversial individuals that attract the most attention and discussion; those whose opinions or reasonings will invariably incite the most opposition or have potential to cause the most harm to more people.

We talk much less about the speeches of those in the mainstream; those whose politely articulated violence nonetheless threatens to do the most harm to the academic freedom we value.

It looks as though more and more cases of free speech and academic freedom are destined to speak through the headlines, rather than making real progress on freedom of speech. But in this, something comes to light: Freedom of speech does not come free afterall. It is a continuous struggle for some, while for others it's a business.

Many sit confortably in their offices, writing books and papers or answering the questions of this or that journalist on what constitutes freedom of speech and making it a subject of research.

Freedom of speech and moreover Academic Freedom, are however incompatible with pre-fixed agendas, monarchies, dictatorships and capitalism. Such freedoms sit uncomfortably with an educational system that looks to the market of education as the next opportunity to exploit students. Not only here in England anymore, but also overseas.

But what sort of freedom of speech, what sort of freedom in exercising their academic judgments, can university workers such as lecturers and professors expect to have in a new globalised market for education?

UCU-uncensored has been asking this very question to some of the players in the market of education as they gathered to disseminate and further their agenda, quietly, insularly, in the heart of prestigious Mayfair. Making best use of the public space outside the conference "Surviving in an increasingly competitive Higher Eduation Marketplace" organised by the Times Higher Educational Supplement in London last week, we asked some questions to those who purport to know.

They emerged, seemingly inspired, as though having shared some protected wisdoms, they were now the holders of some new spiritual truth; able to exercise pressure over academia, worthy of their elite titles.

Take a look at the video to see what they had to say when we asked about academic freedom.

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