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ISA Statement on Academic Freedom and Mobility in the People’s Republic of China

The Academic Freedom Committee of the International Studies Association (ISA) expresses concern for the state of academic freedom in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and wishes to draw particular attention to restrictions placed on academic mobility by the Chinese government. The international mobility of scholars and researchers is central to the exchange of knowledge and learning and an important pillar of academic freedom. We note with concern, however, restrictions on Chinese scholars seeking to participate in academic activities outside of China as well as on foreign scholars seeking to enter China. 

In March 2022, at least five Chinese scholars were allegedly prevented from participating virtually in the annual convention of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), one of the oldest and largest professional scholarly associations in the field.1  Since 2016 China’s Education Ministry requires Chinese academics to seek approval from their universities before traveling overseas and participating in international scholarly collaborations.2  The academics affected allegedly did not have this permission, which has been applied to online participation as well. Similarly, in March 2021, the Chinese government imposed sanctions, including travel bans, on three academics and an entire research institution, the Mercator-Institute for China Studies, all based in Europe. The targeted scholars and institution had all undertaken research into human rights violations in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

These incidents are only two examples in a growing number of infringements of academic freedom in China in recent years. The Academic Freedom Index lists China as among the countries that exhibits ‘substantially less academic freedom’ in 2021 than it did in 2011.3 Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitoring Project has documented 125 attacks on higher education, including twelve relating to travel restrictions imposed on academics, since November 2012 when President Xi Jinping became General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. The attacks have included serious violations of academic freedom and have involved the dismissal, prosecution, and imprisonment of scholars.4  

China has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) without filing a reservation on article 15.3 that protects the “freedom indispensable for scientific research”. Recent developments in China’s academic sector, however, raise serious questions about the Party-state’s commitment to academic freedom. 

ISA is the largest and most respected scholarly association in the field, counting over 6,500 members across some 100 countries. On behalf of its membership, we call upon the Chinese government to comply with its international obligations to respect academic freedom and the autonomy of higher educational institutions.

For further information about ISA’s deliberative processes on academic freedom concerns and the committee’s mandate from the Governing Council, please see:
https://www.isanet.org/ISA/Governance/Committees/Academic-Freedom

Sincerely,

Deborah Avant, President, ISA
Mark A. Boyer, Executive Director, ISA
Omar McDoom, Chair, ISA Academic Freedom Committee 

 


1 See National Public Radio news article, accessed November 10 2022. 
2 See the Guidance on Strengthening and Improving the Administration of Teaching and Research Staff Temporarily Going Abroad for Business, published November 24 2016, accessed November 10 2022. 
3 See Academic Freedom Index Update 2022, accessed November 10 2022. 
4 For more information, see Scholars at Risk’s Obstacles to Excellence: Academic Freedom and China’s Quest for World-Class Universities report, accessed November 10 2022.

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