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Nordic University Days 2022
A total of 62 leaders of Nordic universities gathered in Brussels to discuss future research and education policy. Photo: Benoît COLLETTE Photography© View original picture , opens in new tab/window

We must maintain the academic freedom

Published: 7 October 2022

The EU must protect academic freedom, science-based policy making and open research data, not only in Europe but throughout the world. That is the message from 62 rectors and vice-rectors from the Nordic universities who met in Brussels on September 26-27 at the Nordic University Days. On site representing Luleå University of Technology was Pro Vice-Chancellor Pär Weihed.

During the two days that the conference took place, leaders of universities in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway discussed their visions for research and higher education in the EU with each other. These issues were also discussed with representatives of the Commission, EU Parliament group leaders, as well as other decision makers and stakeholders involved in research and higher education.

“It is important that the Nordic universities meet regularly to discuss how to maintain and strengthen important academic values at our institutions of higher learning, but even more importantly how to join forces to guard and defend them in a European and global context”, says Vice - Chnacellor Birgitta Bergvall-Kåreborn .

Agreed on a six-point programme

The meeting participants agreed on a common message of six points:

First, they emphasized that research and teaching, as well as the institutions in which these activities are conducted, must be free from political, commercial and/or religious interference. Researchers must be able to freely disseminate and publish their results. Furthermore, researchers must be able to speak freely publicly about their own institution and the education system. Freedom of association, including the right to join a trade union, is a fundamental right.

Second, research and scientific evidence must be a natural part of the policy process. Policy decisions that are grounded in scientific evidence and that impression from various scientific disciplines are better placed to deal with the challenges facing humanity. A growing threat to evidence-based decision-making is that the researchers who participate in the public debate and contribute their knowledge to the policy process are increasingly exposed to threats and harassment. The meeting participants called for a greater understanding among the decision-makers of basic research's need for research funds. In the long term, they argued, basic research will prove to be of decisive importance for societal development.

Include the universities in the policy process

Thirdly, the universities in the member states should be included in the decision-making process when the EU develops new forms of cooperation around research and higher education.

Fourth, excellence should continue to be the basic principle that guides investment in research, education and innovation. Excellence is a prerequisite for implementing the green and digital transformation, both in Europe and in the world.

Fifth, the EU should support global collaborations around research and innovation. It is through global research collaborations that societal challenges, such as pandemics and climate change, find their solution. At the same time, the growing threat from foreign interference in research and innovation should not be underestimated. It is therefore important to have EU level guidelines for how this threat should be handled.

Sixth, the EU's research and innovation programs should continue to be the most internationalized and open programmes in the world. Global challenges can only be solved through global cooperation. Excellence should also continue to form the basis for distribution of research funds. Freedom of research and free exchange of knowledge and research results are a prerequisite for society's development.