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October 14, 2013 | by  | in News |
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Fight! For Your Right!

A new group is pledging to hold tertiary institutions to account, to ensure they are operating for the public good rather than for the interests of New Zealand’s economic and political elite.

Academic Freedom Aotearoa (AFA) had its public launch on 4 October. The organisation is committed to ensuring universities fulfil their “public good roles” and steer clear of satisfying the interests of individual students and staff.

AFA’s website states that “academic freedom applies to both teaching and research in tertiary education institutions and is protected by law (Education Act 1989 Section 161)”.

The organisation also suggests that academic freedom embodies the right to “freedom in teaching and discussion” and “freedom in carrying out research without commercial or political interference”, for instance.

AFA consists of academics attached to institutions all over the country, and is seen as being crucial to a “strong democracy” according to co-chair Professor Jack Heinemann, who emphasises the link between academic freedom and responsibility.

“Academic freedom is the responsibility placed on scholars to present uncomfortable truths that might otherwise cost them their jobs, liberty and life at some times and in some places,” said Professor Heinemann.

AFA’s second co-chair, former Tertiary Education Union National President Dr Sandra Grey, has expressed her feelings that academic freedoms are jeopardised in the research sector of tertiary institutions. Dr Grey believes that the research of scholars is too closely aligned with commercial interests.

“The space for academics who are researching and speaking out on things that the Government does not want to hear is shrinking,” said Dr Grey.

Some of the group’s current issues include the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) system’s promotion of commercially applicable research, and support for international academics in vulnerable positions as a result of challenging their nation’s political and economic elite.

Academic Freedom Aotearoa was launched the day before Academic Freedom Day and World Teachers Day. Students can find more information and sign up to the group’s website at academicfreedom.kiwi.nz.

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