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What is Academic Freedom Index (AFi) and should it be used in the ranking of Colleges???

Back in March (26 March, 2020), a new index was released that determined the freedom of scholars to teach and research in various countries of the world. The index was prepared by two research fellows Janika Spannagel and Ilyas Saliba along with a professor of International Politics of Human Rights, Katrin Kinzelbach in collaboration with FAU; the Global Public Policy Institute; the Scholars at Risk Network; and the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute.

What is Academic Freedom???
Article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966, in its paragraph 3 addresses academic freedom which lies in the domain of right to science as “The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity.” Additionally, a UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel, adopted in 1997, specifies academic freedom as “the right [of academics], without constriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom of teaching and discussion, freedom in carrying out research and disseminating and publishing the results thereof, freedom to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work, freedom from institutional censorship and freedom to participate in professional or representative academic bodies” (UNESCO, 1997)1. In short academic freedom is the freedom available to scholars to conduct their research, share their knowledge and findings, and have an open discussion forum about various topics without fear of any external action.

What is Academic Freedom Index???
The authors of this index measured the degree of freedom scholars are provided in different countries at their academic institutes. This academic freedom index was calculated on the basis of five parameters:
1. Freedom to Research and Teach
2. Freedom of Academic Exchange and Dissemination
3. Institutional Autonomy
4. Campus Integrity
5. Freedom of Academic and Cultural Expression
On the basis of these parameters, index was calculated and the countries were divided into 5 status.

A status countries had their index between 0.8-1.0; B status countries ranged between 0.6-0.8; C status countries had the index value between 0.4-0.6; D status countries value lied between 0.2-0.4 and E status countries had it between 0.0-0.2.

How did India fare in Academic Freedom Index???
India according to this index belonged to D status countries (0.2-0.4). So, the next question comes,

What led to this downfall???
This does not become clear by just seeing the indexing, for that you need to visit the website.
This might provide some basic idea about the downfall in indexing. According to the records which is available from January 1, 2010, there are 146 cases that point to gagging of academic freedom of scholars. Reading into the cases you will also observe that these are related to the 5th parameter only.

Is this index worthy enough???
On a personal note, I will definitely say YES!!!
An information regarding such index will not only be helpful to the students but also the faculty and all other associated parties, about the degree of freedom an educational institute in any particular country offers. However, my concern is regarding the way this has been calculated. They have considered 5 parameters for the indexing, but the information about the parameter where academic freedom is violated is only available for one factor (mostly) i.e. Freedom of Academic and Cultural Expression. Now, if you go into more details of the mentioned cases, generally only few universities are involved in such events. The most prominent being JNU and Jamia Millia.
So, does this factor alone is responsible for the dropped index might be a question? And thus it needs to be answered more efficiently. This can be easily clarified if the weights of all the parameters is provided as to which parameter is more important than other. If the parameters are equally important, then the authors need to put a better filter on Freedom of Academic and Cultural Expression. Because a protest or expressing ones view is always accepted, but if they turn out to be violent and aim to destroy a sovereignty of a state, it should not be considered as freedom of academic and cultural expression and necessary legal actions need to be taken against them.
And the second most important question, whether a handful of universities represent the scenario in the entire country? This can be solved by proper sampling of the respondents. If some proper checks can be built and corrections are set in place, this index can definitely help a large number of students and in turn can change the outlook of Indian varsities at a global level.

You can read their full report about Academic Freedom Index.

1 Kinzelbach, K., Saliba, I., Spannagel, J., & Quinn, R. 2020. Putting the Academic Freedom Index
Into Action.


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