We have joined with our colleagues at the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES) to write to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, to express our grave dismay at recent actions by the government to dismantle academic freedom and stifle scholarly exchange in the United Kingdom. You can read the text of the letter below, or download a pdf copy at the end of this page.
Dear Prime Minister,
As officers of the British International Studies Association (BISA) and the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES), we note with grave dismay recent actions by your government to dismantle academic freedom and stifle scholarly exchange in the United Kingdom. As organisations, BISA and UACES endorse the definition of academic freedom forwarded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (1997) which includes:
The right, without prescription by prescribed doctrine, to freedom of teaching and discussions, freedom in carrying out research, and disseminating and publishing the results thereof, freedom to express freely their opinion of the institution in which they work, freedom from institutional censorship, and freedom to participate in professional or representative academic bodies.
In particular, we note some of the most recent actions that exhibit a worrying disregard for academic freedom:
- The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology has sought to curtail scholarly expression of views on the ongoing tragedies in Israel-Palestine and your government’s responses to them;
- Reports have emerged of a request from the Secretary of State to collect a secret dossier on a British academic whose views run contrary to her ideological preferences;
- Proposals to broaden the definition of extremism to any criticism of existing British institutions and values.
Advances in scholarship will challenge conventional wisdom, standard operating procedures, and even what some consider to be common sense. Robust evidence backed research, forensic evaluation of claims, and open scholarly communication are how knowledge is produced and societies progress. The protection of structures and practices that enable academic freedom are particularly vital to the continuing development of international studies as a scholarly field as it examines sensitive issues like war, international law, human rights, migration, climate change, and collective responsibility for global inequalities that are inevitably politically contentious. Therefore, we strongly object to the idea that any government has a monopoly on the truth or a license to circumscribe the parameters of academic freedom to align with its ideological preferences. Such actions endanger our ability as a discipline to conduct research that advances knowledge and contributes to making a positive difference around the world.
With these attempts to restrict academic freedom, your government is threatening the continuing advancement of research and knowledge of international studies in the country and the position of the United Kingdom as a global leader in this field.
Professor Kyle Grayson
Chair of the British International Studies Association
Professor Juanita Elias
Vice Chair of the British International Studies Association
Professor Toni Haastrup
Secretary of the British International Studies Association
Professor Simon Usherwood
Chair of the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES)
Dr Koen Slootmaeckers
EDI Officer of the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES)
 BISA (2022) ‘Statement on Academic Freedom’ available from https://www.bisa.ac.uk/about/policies-and-procedures/statement-academic-freedom and UNESCO (1997) ‘Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel’ available from https://en.unesco.org/about-us/legal-affairs/recommendation-concerning-status-higher-education-teaching-personnel
 Grove Jack (2023) ‘Donelan’s UKRI letter over Israel comments sparks free speech row’ Times Higher Education (30 October) available from: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/donelans-ukri-letter-over-israel-comments-sparks-free-speech-row
 Wood, Poppy (2023) ‘Government prepared secret dossier on academic’s BLM, ‘militant leftism’ and Israel war posts’ Inews (3 November) available from: https://inews.co.uk/news/government-prepared-secret-dossier-academics-blm-2730858
 Ungoed-Thomas, Jon and Mark Townsend (2023) ‘Revealed: plan to brand anyone ‘undermining’ UK as extremist’ The Guardian(4 November) available from: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/nov/04/plans-to-redefine-extremism-would-include-undermining-uk-values