Parliamentary Assembly

Academic freedom, university autonomy and human rights in the 21st century

Doc. 10087
12 February 2004

Motion for a recommendation
presented by Mr Jarab and others

This motion has not been discussed in the Assembly and commits only the members who have signed it

1.         In 1989 the University of Bologna, the oldest institution of higher learning in the world, celebrated its nine-hundredth anniversary.  On the occasion a document was conceived, called the Magna Charta Universitatum, in which the basic principles of university autonomy and academic freedom were formulated – reflecting the vital role of universities in the development of human civilisations. It was stated then that those same principles should be respected in the future, and it was believed that to guarantee the continued respect and observation of those principles would be in the benefit of individual societies and humanity in general.

2.         Since the celebration of BolognaUniversity’s history in 1989, some five hundred universities from all continents have signed the text of the Magna Charta (which has been translated into scores of languages) – and further universities join in every year.

3.         In 1999 the University of Bologna and the Association of European Universities founded a Magna Charta Observatory which is to monitor the observation of the principles and also to initiate a wide debate of the values those principles represent. (The composition of the Observatory includes experts nominated by the founding organisations as well as by the UNESCO and the Council of Europe).

4.         The situations is higher learning and research in many countries, including member countries of the Council of Europe, however generate a number of relevant, sometimes very urgent, questions that are not easily answered, and issues which are not easily solved.  Frequently the intricacy lies in the lack of clarity in the definition (and justification) of academic freedom on the part of those who produce, spread and apply knowledge.  Is it of benefit for societies to give such category of experts special rights?  Is the role of the university in the future of relevance comparable to what it used to be in the long history of the institution?  Do and can universities re-justify claims for autonomy and academic freedom at present ?  Such questions should be asked and answered – after some case – studies are being brought into consideration and after social, cultural and civilisational values are being assessed and weighed.

5.         It should be useful to examine the present state of the matter and see whether, and in what way, policies of university autonomy and the exercise of academic freedom comply with the basic human rights, whether they are a reasonable and natural extension of human rights, and, also for that reason, recommendable for protection in the interest of societies at large, both nationally and internationally. 

Signed [1]:
Jarab, Czech Republic, LDR  
Bemelmans-Videc, Netherlands, EPP/CD 
Devínsky, Slovakia, EPP/CD
Dromberg, Finland, EPP/CD
Gostev, Russia, UEL
McNamara, United Kingdom, SOC
Mezihorák, Czech Republic, SOC
O’Hara, United Kingdom, SOC
Pericleous Papadopoulos, Cyprus, LDR
Prisacaru, Romania, SOC
Russell-Johnston, United Kingdom, LDR
Shybko, Ukraine, SOC
Šileikis, Lithuania, LDR
Skarbřvik, Norway, EPP/CD 
Smorawinski, Poland, EPP/CD
van Thijn, Netherlands, SOC



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