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BAFADIA Report Summary

Project ID: 911660
Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
Country: Ghana

Final Report Summary - BAFADIA (Building Academic Freedom And Democracy In Africa)

Project reference: 911660. Funded under: FP7-PEOPLE
October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016

The focus of the project was to disseminate the findings of the research project undertaken at the University of Lincoln, UK to study the health of academic freedom in African universities which involved undertaking a review of the laws of the 55 African countries on academic freedom, followed by an empirical survey of academics in African universities.

The survey came up with some significant findings concerning de jure recognition of academic freedom in Africa, compared to what existed in the independence period until the late 1980s. For example, it was revealed that for the first time in Africa’s constitutional history, 14 countries have given specific recognition to academic freedom in their constitutions, with 7 more granting direct recognition, together constituting about 48% of the 46 countries surveyed. The rest only give indirect recognition through freedom of expression.

Further, based on a ranking score developed to measure academic freedom in the 46 countries, 9 countries scored ‘free’ and 20, ‘partly free’ based on an assessment of five indicators of academic freedom – institutional autonomy, institutional self-governance, individual rights and freedoms, tenure and recognition of academic freedom in a country’s constitution.

It was also found out that in a number of countries, the tradition of appointing the Head of State as Chancellor of a university was changing, thereby indicating a shift in political interference in the activities of universities.

However, some significant gaps and weaknesses remain which would seem to dilute the progress made. One, the work reveals that the recognition of academic freedom in the constitution of some countries has not resulted in a simultaneous targeted amendment of either the legislation regulating/establishing public universities in that country or the universities’ statutes. Two, in some situations, the threat of violation has shifted from the external (the state) to the internal (the university administration). Three, the Kampala Declaration on Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility, adopted by African academics in 1990 in the wake of flagrant violations of academic freedom occasioned by the application of the IMF/WB structural adjustment policies (SAP) in most African countries, seems to be matching behind times as a policy document to address violations of academic freedom in Africa. Four, students’ right to academic freedom is also under serious threat in a large number of universities across the continent. Five, the proliferation of private universities has revealed another dimension to the academic freedom challenges universities in Africa face. Six, the survey reveals that most academics who have had their academic freedom violated one way or the other did not receive the needed support from their unions.

Concerning the de facto recognition segment of the project, attempts to have academics engage in the online survey, prepared to assess their knowledge of academic freedom, was met with low response. The low-level response rate, our survey concludes, is partly a reflection of lack of knowledge and understanding of academic freedom and its relevance in the life of an academic, which has a spin-off effect on how academics (and their unions) relate to the university administration, the state as well as their students.

Socio-economic impact of the project
The findings of the project and their dissemination have helped to expose the importance of the concept to not only academics in Africa but also university students. It has also helped to highlight the obligations on governments in the promotion and protection of academic freedom.

The ability to establish the relationship between academic freedom and wider societal freedoms through the Composite Theory is also an important means to let academics see the breath of the responsibility they owe to students and the general public.

Furthermore, the workshop organized for leaders of university teacher unions in the West African sub-region helped to provide a greater understanding of the concept of academic freedom for application in their various universities.

The exposure of the students to academic freedom in various fora inside and outside Ghana also provided important means for them to see the scope of the privileges (and corresponding duties) assigned them under academic freedom.

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