Academic freedom and democracy in African countries: the first study to track the connection

Article by Liisa Laakso: “There is growing interest in the state of academic freedom worldwide. A 1997 Unesco document defines it as the right of scholars to teach, discuss, research, publish, express opinions about systems and participate in academic bodies. Academic freedom is a cornerstone of education and knowledge.

Yet there is surprisingly little empirical research on the actual impact of academic freedom. Comparable measurements have also been scarce. It was only in 2020 that a worldwide index of academic freedom was launched by the Varieties of Democracy database, V-Dem, in collaboration with the Scholars at Risk Network….

My research has been on the political science discipline in African universities and its role in political developments on the continent. As part of this project, I have investigated the impact of academic freedom in the post-Cold War democratic transitions in Africa.

study I published with the Tunisian economist Hajer Kratou showed that academic freedom has a significant positive effect on democracy, when democracy is measured by indicators such as the quality of elections and executive accountability.

However, the time factor is significant. Countries with high levels of academic freedom before and at the time of their democratic transition showed high levels of democracy even 5, 10 and 15 years later. In contrast, the political situation was more likely to deteriorate in countries where academic freedom was restricted at the time of transition. The impact of academic freedom was greatest in low-income countries….(More)”