Free to Think 2018: New Report Documents Global Crisis of Attacks on Higher Education

Posted October 23, 2018

Scholars at Risk (SAR) announces the release of Free to Think 2018, a report analyzing 294 reported attacks on higher education communities in 47 countries, from September 1, 2017, to August 31, 2018.

“Higher education communities are attacked with alarming frequency,” said Robert Quinn, SAR’s Executive Director. Mr. Quinn added “From suicide attacks by extremists to state-imposed travel restrictions, this year’s report illustrates how scholars, students, and higher education communities are on the front lines in the fight for the freedom to think and ask questions, especially of those in power. This report is a call to action: to states, to civil society, and to the general public to demand greater protection for higher education communities everywhere.”

Free to Think 2018 analyzes 12 months of data compiled by SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project and identifies major trends in attacks on the international higher education sector, including:

  • Violent attacks on higher education communities, including by armed individuals and groups against campuses or individual students and scholars. Attacks against higher education communities often occur in states experiencing conflict or extremism and attacks against individual students or scholars are often intended to retaliate against or deter expression and inquiry. Significant attacks on campuses and individuals were carried out in Afghanistan, Kenya, Pakistan, India, and Yemen.
  • Wrongful imprisonment and prosecution of scholars as part of efforts to retaliate against or restrict academic conduct or expression. This year, SAR recorded 104 incidents of detentions, arrests, warrants issued, investigations, warrants, and other legal practices against hundreds of scholars and students.
  • Targeted attacks on scholars and students in Iran, including a crackdown on student protesters following the December 2017 protests and the imprisonment and ill-treatment of scholars detained in connection with their academic activity.
  • Detention of Uyghur scholars and students in China, including in so-called re-education camps, where they have been denied legal counsel and face severe physical and psychological abuse.
  • Pressures on student expression by state, non-state, and university actors including violent attacks, imprisonment, prosecution, and expulsions. This has been most notable in Nicaragua, where police and paramilitary groups have used violent force against students who have been engaged in a nationwide protest movement since April 2018.
  • Ongoing threats to Turkey’s higher education sector, including the continuation of imprisonments, prosecutions, dismissals, expulsions, and travel restrictions against university personnel and students.
  • Restrictions on academic travel, including targeted denial of entry and exit for academic content or conduct and broad restrictions on travel affecting higher education communities.
  • Tensions in the United States, in particular the political targeting of campus speech and heightened political tensions leading to violence on campuses.
  • Threats to institutional autonomy, including state actions to close down or otherwise restrain higher education institutions in Central and Eastern Europe.

Free to Think 2018 not only illustrates the pervasiveness of attacks on higher education; it also sheds light on how higher education communities are uniquely vulnerable,” said Clare Robinson, SAR’s Advocacy Director. “Healthy universities are open places, where ideas can be exchanged freely. This openness makes them especially vulnerable to the kinds of attacks in the report. And the impacts of these attacks permeate at multiple levels. They not only harm the immediate victims, they can intimidate entire communities, and undermine academic freedom at the national and even global level. We hope this report can serve as a catalyst for a global response to protect threatened students, scholars, and universities.”

SAR will hold a public Free to Think 2018 report launch and reception on October 23 at New York University’s School of Law, from 6:00 – 8:00 pm.

For more information about the report and the event, including requests for interviews with SAR staff, monitors, and event speakers, please contact Alex Bell at alex.bell@nyu.edu.

Download the report

Download the executive summary

Press Contact Alex Bell: alex.bell@nyu.edu
Location New York, NY
In Categories: Press Releases