The ‘core value’ of academic freedom is voiced in Paris

published 31 October 2017 updated 2 November 2017

The status of higher education teaching personnel was the focus of an Education International event in Paris where academics were joined by teachers’ unions to shed light on a sector under threat.

Marking the 20th anniversary of the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation on Higher Education Teaching Personnel, the event, a report launch and panel discussion, held at the Université Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, home of countless famous graduates, from Voltaire, Marie Curie and the current French President, Emmanuel Macron, was provided with the ideal surroundings to focus on academic freedom and professional status.

Held to commemorate the amendment to the 1966 Recommendation on the teaching profession, it specifically acknowledges the importance of higher education and the contributions of academics.

Taking place on 31 October, it attended by many across the education spectrum. The timely topic attracted members of Education International (EI)’s affiliates, university leaders, academics, and students. The event was organised on the margins of the General Conference of UNESCO, which began 30 October and continues to 14 November.

Led by Education International (EI) General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen, the event not only sheds light on the UNESCO Recommendation, but more importantly on how many of the rights and freedoms it outlines are being stripped from academics.

“The recommendation throws a spotlight on post-secondary education and the challenges facing academia around the world,” said van Leeuwen as shared the plight of higher education personnel in places such as Turkey and Colombia. “Our institutions of higher learning were once known for, and rightly so, spaces for debate and intellectual freedom. Academics were able to pursue their research and teach ideas that ruffled the feathers of the gatekeepers of societies’ status quo. Sadly, this protection is being stripped away.”

To make it clear how much the reality of academia has changed over the years, President of the Université Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, Georges Haddad, shared the early days of his career.

“When I began my career as an assistant lecturer, I was able to rent an apartment in the centre of Paris on my salary,” reflected Haddad. This today is, as many are aware, no possible. Too many academics today have to travel far from Paris to do the same work he began with four decades ago.

Haddad stressed the importance that research plays in higher education. Recognising the critical role of lecturers in generating ideas and knowledge among students, without research all else is not possible. Research is central to the work and careers of higher education teaching personnel.

He also discussed how higher education is essential to maintaining strong democracies. This makes the status of higher education personnel critical to maintaining not only strong educational institutions, but in safeguarding democratic principles.

Nelly Stromquist, the author of “Twenty years later: International efforts to protect the rights of higher education teaching personnel remain insufficient,” a report launched at the event, was unable to present her work due to last minute illness. To share the study in her absence and moderate the panel was David Robinson, the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

The panel included Qian Tang, Assistant Director General for Education, UNESCO; Monique Fouilhoux, Chair, Global Campaign for Education; Cyril Cosme, Director, International Labour Organisation, Paris; Beatrice Avalos, CEART member and Centre for Advanced Research in Education, University of Chile; and Edem Adubra, UNESCO.