Governance dilemmas and academic freedom in contemporary universities

  • Ulla Eriksson-Zetterquist GRI, University of Gothenburg
  • Kerstin Sahlin Uppsala University


Even if academic freedom is an often expressed ideal – in which independent knowledge formation and distribution assumes autonomy for institutions and scholars alike – contemporary changes of governance and organization of universities have led to a situation in which the autonomy of higher education and research is under dispute. In this paper we analyze a contemporary reform of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (“HEI”), a reform that was presented as part of a package of new forms of governing that should strengthen university autonomy and academic freedom. The analysis focuses on presentation of the reform in investigations commissioned by the government, the government proposition, and the reception of the suggested changes in blog comments made by Vice-Chancellors. It shows that academic scholars, when governed according to either enterprise or bureaucracy ideals (or both), may not necessarily suffer from coercion, as long as they are allowed to study, teach and speak about what they want within their discipline. However, as these governing ideals assume organizations to be top-controlled and directed towards a common goal, they still hamper the opportunities for free research. Thus, the declared freedom to a great extent appear ritualistic. We claim that contemporary de-collegialization and managerialization of individual universities and research, risks to challenge and possibly undermine academic freedom and academic self-control.

6.1 Academic Leadership