The heads of the mainland's nine leading research universities have signed a statement that commits them to work together to advance and uphold academic freedom. Photo: Reuters

Nine Chinese universities sign academic freedom pact

The deal, also signed by European, Australian and American schools, aims to define key qualities for research facilities to be effective

Liz Heron

The heads of the mainland's nine leading research universities have signed a statement that commits them to work together to advance and uphold academic freedom.

The Hefei Statement on the 10 characteristics of contemporary research universities was announced at the annual meeting of the Chinese C9 League in Hefei , Anhui province, on Thursday.

The statement was jointly drawn up by the C9, the League of European Research Universities (Leru), Australia's Group of Eight universities and the Association of American Universities (AAU). It was signed by the heads of all C9 universities and chairmen of the other associations.

It is the first attempt to provide a shared, global definition of the key qualities that are necessary for research universities to be effective.

The C9 members are Fudan, Nanjing , Shanghai Jiaotong, Tsinghua, Xian Jiaotong and Zhejiang universities, Harbin Institute of Technology, Peking University and the University of Science and Technology of China.

A research university would exhibit "the responsible exercise of academic freedom by faculty to produce and disseminate knowledge through research, teaching and services without undue constraint within a research culture based on open inquiry and the continued testing of current understanding", the statement said.

The statement is intended to foster a policy environment that promotes the standards that underlie the 10 characteristics. By signing it, the four groups committed to work together to advance the characteristics, work with members to ensure their realisation and promote their "foundational nature" in the development of higher education policy.

The convener of the C9 group, Professor Jianguo Hou, who is also president of the University of Science and Technology, said: "This statement articulates the key characteristics of research universities that enable them to fulfil their research and education missions. It outlines the shared values that underpin effective cross-national institutional collaboration."

AAU president Professor Hunter Rawlings said: "The statement identifies not only institutional responsibilities but also the need for government policies that support the values and cultivate those basic strengths of research universities that enable them to serve their nations well."

Leru chair Professor Bernd Huber said the four associations would go on to explore possibilities for greater collaboration among students, scholars and researchers.

"We will pursue the possibilities for joint work addressing global research issues, including structured dialogue with the recently formed Global Research Council, perhaps through the formation of a Global Council of Research Universities," he said.

The Global Research Council brings together the heads of science and engineering funding agencies, with the aim of sharing data and best practices for collaboration among international agencies worldwide.

The statement said public policy in many countries had taken an "ever more instrumentalist view" of universities, as they had increased in number and size in response to the growth of the service sector and knowledge economy.

"Research universities are increasingly under pressure to shift from fundamental to applied research to produce short-term benefits and to narrow their curricula in pursuit of instrumental educational objectives," it said.

Such pressures had "put research universities in danger of losing what makes them unique participants in national innovation systems and major contributors to national well-being".


This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Nine universities sign academic freedom pact