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International solidarity to defend the public university

In a joint statement, the members of EI, the Quebec Federation of University Professors of Canada (FQPPU) and the national trade union of higher education of France (SNESUP-FSU), undertook to pool their resources to defend public universities.

The FQPPU and the SNESUP share a similar vision of an open, collegial and democratic university, accessible to many students, devoted to meeting social needs and protected from pressure from any political, economic or religious force. In the coming months, the two organisations will cooperate in studies, public meetings and events to bring people together to support their vision.

Pressure from external forces

For years, the fundamental mission of universities in France and in Quebec – to provide a public service for education and research – has undergone major changes. Universities are increasingly subjected to external influences that divert them from the public interest and weaken academic freedom and independence of research, both essential to a university’s mission.

A gradual but notable disengagement by the State is compromising the social and humanistic function of the university, and its capacity to meet collective needs. This impacts on students and allows the private sector a greater influence on the institution. This, in turn, leads to an increase in tuition and registration fees, a targeted and authoritarian guidance of research, and  governance based on commercial principles. 

Union support

FQPPU President Max Roy pointed out that the “current crisis in higher education is an international phenomenon that requires vigorous and concerted action from the academic community. The alliance between the FQPPU and the SNESUP confirms our determination to defend the university as a public service.”

For his part, Stéphane Tassel, General Secretary of the SNESUP-FSU, said that the “situation faced by higher education and research as a public service in France, and the tough battles we are waging, are similar to the situation and struggles faced by our colleagues in Quebec and their students. At a pivotal moment, we wanted to reaffirm our commitment to the public university on either side of the ‘pond’, in its universal dimension and major role in society.”

EI has lent its support to the aspirations of these member organisations. “Higher education and research constitute a public good that is essential for the social, cultural and economic development of communities, nations and regions,” said EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen. “Consequently, it is incumbent upon the States to guarantee sufficient funding for higher education and research institutions.

“EI welcomes wholeheartedly this initiative from member organisations, and will continue to campaign for the full implementation of UNESCO’s 1997 recommendation concerning the status of higher education teaching personnel. The situation of higher education and research in these two countries will undoubtedly be at the heart of the discussions during the higher education and research world conference that will be held on 25-27 September in Buenos Aires, Argentina.”

Guaranteeing the exercise of academic freedoms

The 5th EI World Congress, held in Berlin in July 2007, adopted a resolution on higher education and research as a public service. This emphasises that the exercise of academic freedoms must be guaranteed for higher education teaching personnel and research staff, comprising the:

·         Freedom of instruction and discussion free from any doctrinal constraint

·         Freedom to conduct research and to disseminate and publish the results

·         Right to express freely one’s opinion on the institution or the system in which one works

·         Right not to be subjected to institutional censure

·         Right to take part freely in the activities of professional organisations or representative academic organisations

The same congress also adopted a resolution on fixed-term higher education teaching personnel, which calls on EI to “recognise the value of the service provided by qualified fixed-term higher education teaching personnel, but oppose the overuse and exploitation of fixed-term appointments by higher education institutions”.

This resolution also encourages higher education affiliates to ensure that fixed-term higher education teaching personnel have guaranteed fair and equitable representation at all levels of any association or union, including membership on executive committees, bargaining committees and standing committees. 

The FQPPU/SNESUP joint statement is available here

To read the Resolution on higher education and research as a public service, click here

To read the resolution on fixed-term higher education teaching personnel, click here

To find out more about the next world conference on higher education and research, click here

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