SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: July 28, 2023

Attack Types: Other

Institution(s):Multiple Institutions

Region & Country:Americas | Nicaragua

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On July 28, 2023, Nicaragua’s Ministry of Interior canceled the legal operating status and confiscated the property of the Universidad Evangelica Martin Luther King (UENIC) and the Universidad de Occidente (UDO).

Nicaragua’s National Council of Universities (CNU) and National Council of Evaluation and Accreditation (CNEA) requested the cancellation of UENIC, stating that the university had failed to comply with the quality standards necessary for accreditation. In addition, CNU and CNEA accused UENIC of using their logos without authorization; offering courses that they had not authorized; charging exorbitant fees for degrees; and failing to have the basic infrastructure required for a university.

The Ministry of Interior, CNEA, and CNU requested the cancellation of UDO, stating that the university had failed to report its financial statements for 2022; offered courses not approved by the CNU and CNEA; offered to degrees to that it was not authorized to offer; failed to meet minimum quality standards for courses; and held locations in locales not reported to the CNU and CNEA.

The assets, property, and furniture of both universities were transferred to the government, and the Ministry of Interior requested lists of students, professors, and course syllabi in order to relocate students to other approved universities.

The seizures appear to be part of a broader pattern, ongoing since 2018, in which the government has taken over a number of institutions seen as opposed to the Ortega regime. A report issued in September 2023, an expert body established under the auspices of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found that 27 private Nicaraguan universities had had their legal status revoked and their assets confiscated.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the delicensure of higher education institutions by national policymakers, apparently as retaliation for expressive activity or political opinion – conduct which is expressly protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Nicaragua is a party. Enforcement of administrative laws and regulations, such as financial disclosure requirements, must be transparent, non-partisan, and proportionate, taking into account relevant human rights concerns including academic freedom and university autonomy. The summary government takeover of multiple higher education institutions severely undermines these values, and harms democratic society generally.