Scholars and students in the Arab region enjoy less academic freedom than their counterparts elsewhere in the world, the second annual Academic Freedom Index 2020 found.
“If you compare world regions, the MENA region scores worse than others,” said Ilyas Saliba, a researcher at the Global Public Policy Institute, in Berlin, and one of the report’s authors.
He was speaking at a virtual news conference to launch the report on March 11.
“There are a few bright spots, like Tunisia,” he said. A guarantee of academic freedom was included in the country’s rewritten 2014 constitution, making Tunisia the only Arab country to enshrine that right in its basic law. (See a related article, “Tunisian Academics Still Under Threat After the Jasmine Revolution.”)
But overall, the situation in the Arab region is deeply troubling.
The index assesses academic freedom in 175 countries and territories worldwide, placing each in a category going from A, indicating complete freedom of research and teaching, to E, indicating the least academic freedom.
High Marks for Tunisia
Tunisia is the only Arab country in Category A. Category B, indicating a few restrictions, includes Lebanon, the West Bank and the Comoros. Category C, indicating moderate restrictions, includes Kuwait, Libya, Gaza, Morocco, Somalia and Sudan.
The majority of the Arab countries are in Category D or E, indicating severe or complete restrictions, and university teachers and students in those countries face expulsion, jail, or worse if they carry out unwelcome research or express views unpopular with the authorities. (See a related article, “Iraqi Researcher’s Assassination Stirs Fears of Renewed Violence Against Academics.”)
This is the second yearly installment of the Academic Freedom Index. The project was jointly developed by researchers from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany, the V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, working in close cooperation with the Scholars at Risk Network, based at New York University.