Navigating New Nationalisms: A Horizon Europe-Funded Research Initiative to Safeguard Academic Freedom in European Higher EducationBy Joy Liwanag
A comprehensive interdisciplinary research project, funded by Horizon Europe and coordinated by Aarhus University in Denmark, is set to explore the impact of shifting geopolitics and the rise of new nationalisms on academic freedom and openness in European higher education and research.
The project, officially known as "Rising nationalisms, shifting geopolitics and the future of European higher education/research openness" (OPEN), will span 38 countries and aims to identify and address perceived threats to the freedom and global cooperation capabilities of universities.
Understanding the Threats: The Memorandum of Understanding
The project's Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) emphasizes that the resurgence of nationalism in the post-Cold War era is prompting critical transformations in higher education. It highlights instances in Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, and Hungary where economic nationalism, reduced international student numbers, and the politicization of knowledge have posed challenges to academic freedom. The pivotal moment of Hungary outlawing the Central European University in 2016 is cited as indicative of the growing threats to academic freedom.
Project Goals and Duration
The COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) action program, spanning from 2023 to 2027, seeks to strengthen European scholarship by addressing the challenges posed by new nationalisms. The project aims to build an international, interdisciplinary network that collaborates with higher education and research stakeholders to generate ideas and strategies to safeguard academic openness and global cooperation capabilities.
Insights from Project Chair Katja Brøgger
Aarhus University's Associate Professor Katja Brøgger, who chairs the project, highlights the impact of new nationalism, geopolitical changes, and European war on fostering a Eurosceptical opposition. These political transformations have exerted increased pressure on the freedoms and openness inherent in higher education and research. Brøgger emphasizes that the project offers an opportunity to bring researchers and stakeholders together across borders to strengthen Europe's capacity to address scientific and societal challenges.
Addressing Economic and Security Considerations
Brøgger delves into the economic, security, and political considerations that have influenced European universities. The aftermath of the financial crisis, South European debt crisis, and migration crisis has led to fundamental challenges to the European integration project and the liberal globalization agenda. Universities find themselves at a crossroads, caught between deeper political integration and a resurgence of the European nation-states, with EU security policies affecting openness and academic freedom.
Perspectives from COST Action Participants
COST Action participants and experts provide insights into the significance of the project. Professor Nafsika Alexiadou from Umeå University in Sweden expresses interest in researching the increasing securitization of research governance and how Sweden will respond to geopolitical developments. Professor Andrea Peto from CEU (Vienna) highlights the transformation of the European higher education system by illiberal politicians and aims to establish a European-level database on academic freedom. Martina Vukasovic from the University of Bergen in Norway critiques the introduction of tuition fees for non-EU/EEA students, signaling a worrying trend of re-nationalization.
Global Implications and Academic Freedom Erosion
Professor Peter Maassen at the University of Oslo, coordinating research for the European Parliament on academic freedom, notes a rapid erosion of de facto academic freedom in the EU due to external and internal threats. The project aims to focus on social action groups, private sector actors, and tensions between national-EU security strategies and academic freedom. The overarching goal is to balance basic principles of openness and academic freedom with evolving security interests.
A Delicate Situation for Universities
Brøgger emphasizes the delicate situation universities face, positioned amid conflicting political ideas in Europe. The (re)nationalization of higher education, politicization of research, and private sector involvement raise serious concerns. The project seeks to bring together scholars across disciplines and borders to strengthen the knowledge base and explore ways of addressing challenges to academic openness.
As the OPEN project takes shape, it emerges as a crucial initiative to navigate the complex interplay of new nationalisms, geopolitical shifts, and academic freedom in European higher education. By fostering collaboration across borders and disciplines, the project aims to equip universities with the insights and strategies needed to uphold academic openness in the face of evolving political landscapes. The first annual conference in Portugal is poised to set the stage for meaningful discussions and action plans that will shape the future of European higher education and research.