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In recent years, academic freedom and the autonomy of universities have come under attack in authoritarian or hybrid countries. Examples include Russia, Belarus, and the Central Asian states, Turkey, China, Iran, as well as self-designated illiberal countries in Eastern Europe.

Curtailment of academic freedom

The governments of these countries disseminate and apply similar practices and methods to limit the space for academic freedom. This includes prohibiting criticism of the government and outlining taboo topics for research. Using various tools and tactics, these regimes put pressure on and attack academics across the humanities and social sciences. Regimes in authoritarian, hybrid and illiberal countries also undermine academic freedom and the institutional autonomy of universities by withdrawing licenses from universities and threatening them with closure.

Alongside the focus on authoritarian, hybrid and illiberal regimes, this symposium also considers the growing infringement on academic freedom in democratic states, including efforts by authoritarian states like China to restrict or direct the news coverage and to support troll attacks.

Welcome to an international interdisciplinary symposium

This international interdisciplinary symposium is organised by the Department of Global Political Studies (GPS) and the research platforms Russia and the Caucasus Regional Research (RUCARR) and Rethinking Democracy (REDEM), at the Faculty of Culture and Society, Malmö University, in collaboration with the Center for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES), Södertörn University.

Our partners include The Scholar at Risk (SAR) Network, the Swedish Section of SAR and the Oxus Society for Central Asian Affairs.

Keynote speakers

Professor Katrin Kinzelbach - Associate Director of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) and Professor at FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg - Germany.

Professor Andrea Pető - Professor in the Department of Gender Studies at Central European University - Hungary, and a Doctor of Science of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.


Topics to be considered will include

  • What is the situation regarding academic freedom and autonomy of universities in authoritarian and non-liberal countries?
  • How do accreditation and censorship policies affect the closure of educational and research institutions?
  • How does the legacy of the Soviet academic system affect academic freedom in modern post-Soviet countries?
  • To what extent do regimes adopt similar practices by cultivating pro-government academics, and using bloggers, and “trolls” to denigrate and discredit the activities of dissenting researchers and university professors?
  • How do regimes use practices, including dismissals, blacklists, surveillance, blackmail, prosecution with charges of espionage, death threats, pressure on family members and imprisonment, to restrict academic freedom?
  • How are campaigns against academic freedom linked to broader patterns of authoritarian governance?
  • How is Covid-19 affecting the situation with academic freedom?
  • What can democratic states do to support academic freedoms in countries where they are under pressure, including within democracies themselves?
  • How has the internationalization of higher education enabled authoritarian states to effectively “transnationalize” everyday forms of censorship and political repression to students and faculty both at home and abroad?