Te Hautū Kahurangi | Tertiary Education Union, in conjunction with NZUSA, Massey University and Academic Freedom Aotearoa, have concluded an invigorating two-day online conference with participants expressing a determination to ‘keep the fire going’.

The conference provided strong critiques of the structural and institutional constraints on academic freedom, but ended with a call to action that everyone involved hopes will bring the tertiary sector together to focus on common interests - advancing the public good, being the critic and conscience of society, and having a responsibility to do so because of academic freedom.

Panelist and facilitator Siân Halcrow sums up the take-home message: “We need to reimagine our tertiary education sector, our public good contributions, and academic freedom from a uniquely Aotearoa New Zealand perspective. The culture of fear academics have been experiencing after many years of corporate style management has got to end.”

But Halcrow also stressed the need to understand the boundaries of academic freedom. “We are committed to ensuring that the responsibility we hold is practiced responsibly – with strong critical engagement but ethically and with manaaki.”

So where to from here? TEU Vice President Julie Douglas stresses the importance of ensuring everyone in the sector is on the same page. “The first step is to make sure we have a definition of academic freedom that is agreed and fit for purpose in Aotearoa. Students, staff, vice chancellors and chief executives need to work together, drawing on our shared values, for this mission. We also need the support of the Minister of Education who wasn’t able to join the forum, but we know he is ready to engage with us in this conversation.”

The ultimate goal of the conference was to get back to a place where students and staff in the tertiary education sector are practicing and teaching academic freedom every day. It is hoped that we are now on that path as a result of the past two days.