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Academic freedom under attack

M E D I A R E L E A S E

Academic freedom under attack

30 Nov 2015

The police constraints on Dr Jarrod Gilbert's research on gangs are an example of widespread and long-lasting restrictions on academic research contracts that are funded by government departments.

Contracted research routinely exercises strict control over the entire project, including many aspects of project methodology, the data gathered, interpretation, and final write-up. In particular, funding agencies regularly hoard the reports and limit the opportunities for researchers to publish their studies.

Contract providers often demand the right to approve the content of researchers' publications and presentations, before the academic can go public with their studies and can simply deny approval if they wish.

In effect, the funders control both the project and the researcher.

The problem is that research is seen as a commodity that can be bought and owned, rather than information that should be freely available for serious inquiry and the public good.

QPEC sees two problems arising from Dr Gilbert's case. One is that it may well be remembered and treated just as the "police issue" or the "gangs issue," when it is actually indicative of a deep-seated injustice that runs right across the tertiary education sector.

The second is the danger to the role of tertiary institutions as "critic and conscience of society." Media reports rightly recall this item as a clause in the Education Act of 1989. But the current Government has started moves to review the Act. It has already restructured tertiary institution councils to ensure extensive control by government. And it clearly countenances restraints on scientists' right to make public statements.

In other words, academic freedom is at stake.

QPEC considers that the restrictions on Dr Gilbert's research represent a serious threat to scholarship in New Zealand, which could be addressed by a model of funded research designed to serve the public interest.


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