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Foto: Martijn Beekman (Rijksoverheid)

Dijkgraaf wants more research into threats to academic freedom

Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau,
25 mei 2023 - 10:23

According to a European report, academic freedom in the Netherlands is under pressure for several reasons. Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf takes the findings seriously and is having them investigated.    

Universities are responsible for ensuring academic freedom. In the Netherlands and many other European countries, this is stated in the law. But it does not define exactly what academic freedom is. Even within one institution, views on it may differ. 


That makes it difficult to protect academic freedom from increasing threats, says a report issued by the European Parliament's research office in March. Therefore, there should be a European legal definition. 

Dijkgraaf does not necessarily see the lack of a European definition as a problem for the Netherlands

Embedding in the law 

Minister Dijkgraaf does not necessarily see the lack of one as a problem for the Netherlands, as revealed by his answer to Green Left parliamentary questions on Wednesday. After all, the science society KNAW already worked out a definition in 2021. It declares that scientists may research how they want, communicate their findings to the public, and teach as they see fit. They should also be free to choose their own topics and questions. 

Dijkgraaf concurs with this definition, saying that the pros and cons of enshrining it in European legislation have yet to be assessed. 


So while researchers argue that it is difficult to defend academic freedom against threats without a clear definition, they did map them out for EU member states. In the Netherlands, hierarchical decision-making at universities puts pressure on researchers' freedom, among other things. Minister Dijkgraaf will discuss this with the KNAW, the Young Academy - a society of relatively young top scientists - and other institutions. 

Ongoing cases

Another threat mentioned is the “cancel culture”: scientists do not always feel free to express academically-based views and engage in public debate. Dijkgraaf promised that this finding would be included in an ongoing study on “self-censorship, academic freedom, and limiting the diversity of perspectives.”

But academic freedom in the Netherlands is also said to be under pressure from the large number of researchers' temporary contracts and the increasing reliance on the private sector for research funding. According to Dijkgraaf, the cabinet is busy reducing flexible contracts and says it is the responsibility of universities to make private funding more transparent. 

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