IFUT has always prided itself on being the only Irish trade union which has the defence and the promotion of Academic Freedom as one of its primary aims. Members may be surprised to know that, on an international scale, Ireland ranks surprisingly high with regard to Academic Freedom. Many international observers point to the fact that Ireland is one of a small number of countries which has the defence of Academic Freedom enshrined in statute law [the 1997 Universities Act].
We are also tremendously proud of the fact that the specific reference to Academic Freedom in that Act was drafted by IFUT.
The necessity to be vigilant and to defend the principle of Academic Freedom has also been raised and discussed at many meetings of the IFUT Executive over the years. A good and typical example of the attention which this important principle has received can be found in a motion which was unanimously adopted at our Annual Delegate Conference in 2011 having been proposed by the Executive. Interestingly (and perhaps unsurprisingly) the resolution was proposed and spoken to most eloquently by our current Incoming President, Dr Anthony Harvey of the Royal Irish Academy; the motion itself read as follows:
Through this Annual Delegate Conference, IFUT reaffirms its professionally held opinion that Academic Freedom, correctly understood, is not a concession to be granted to or withheld from scholars at the whim of the State, but is instead a fundamental and necessary characteristic of any University system worthy of the name.”
Members interested in this topic may like to know about a new book that was published at the end of 2020. The book looks at academic freedom in four countries and one of the case studies is Ireland.
You can download it here https://www.gppi.net/2020/12/16/researching-academic-freedom
This book, “Researching Academic Freedom (Guidelines and Sample Case Studies) was published by FAU University Press on 16 December 2020.
In the chapter “Academic Freedom in Ireland” by Kirsten Roberts Lyer and Elizaveta Potapova IFUT is referenced several times and there are also honourable mentions of IFUT members, Andrew Loxley (TCD), Marie Clarke (UCD), John Walsh (TCD), and Aidan Seery (TCD).
These case studies are part of a broader initiative around an Academic Freedom Index: https://www.gppi.net/2020/03/26/free-universities.
In “Free Universities; Putting the Academic Freedom Index into Action” (March 2020) Ireland’s status is referenced in an international list on p.24.
Through our active participation in Education International the position of Treasurer of ETUCE, the European Region of EI, has been held by IFUT for almost a decade. The current incumbent is our General Secretary, Joan Donegan. IFUT has worked with international HE unions to keep the issue of Academic Freedom high on the work programme of international education trade unions.
The importance of Academic Freedom is highlighted in a speech by Ms Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Assembly in October 2020 where she stated:
“In the face of unprecedented challenge of finding an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that the academic community be allowed to research, debate and disseminate and share knowledge freely including through cross border co-operation without harassment, repression or persecution. The imperative to respect, protect and strengthen academic freedom has never been greater.”