Fighting for Academic Freedom

By Chris Powers, UK President

Fighting for academic freedom as part of a truly ‘European’ network

Many of you will have no doubt seen and heard about the passing of a bill in Hungary that has the effect of restricting its best higher education institution, the Central European University, from operating. Some of you will have seen the flurry of statements of support for them at what is truly a challenging (but not unprecedented) time for them. YEM has followed it closely, but rather than create our own statement on this issue, we thought we would make it clear to you what has already been done across our Europe-wide network, and a couple of small suggestions on what you can still do to show you care!

Within the UK, our branch in Cambridge led the way in drafting a common statement about the situation, bringing on board many of the ‘national’ societies at the university.

At European level, I started a discussion in the members’ group about the CEU and what we can do. Since then we have had members of our organisation doing really a lot whether:

  • Protesting in Budapest
  • Pressuring the European Commission and Council to take a stand
  • Lobbying the EPP informally
  • Informing the wider public through media about what exactly is going on
  • Or bringing to the fore some of the current students whose lives will be affected by these closures.

That being said, the issue is not yet resolved. We must continue to pressure the Hungarian government in whatever ways we can; and the European People’s Party as it tries to wash its hands of responsibility for the actions of one of its members; and the European Union itself which has a clear Treaty commitment to academic freedom!

Short of being on a holiday to Budapest yourself as one of our members is right now (kudos Matteo!), you can for now at least sign and share a relevant petition, and follow the #IstandwithCEU Facebook page, deploying the hashtag whenever and wherever you can. If you have other ideas, of what we can all do as members, or what your YEM UK National Board should be doing, then drop me a message (!

In the meantime, stay vigilant, fight for the causes you know and care about, and keep your eyes open for the ones that are less visible. For example, another ‘European University’ of repute, this time over in St Petersburg is being closed down with far less commentary around it. Michael Gove, Putin, and Órban may think the world has no need of experts, but it is our duty as Europeans to show our respect for the role of education in society, and to protect it at all costs.