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Think Tank’s New Academic Freedom Index: China in the Bottom Tier; Hong Kong Lower than Russia

The Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI), an independent non-profit think tank based in Berlin, recently published an update of the Academic Freedom Index (AFI), a measure that compares the state of academic freedom in countries worldwide.

The index is composed of five expert-coded indicators that capture key elements in the de facto realization of academic freedom: (1) freedom to research and teach; (2) freedom of academic exchange and dissemination; (3) institutional autonomy; (4) campus integrity; and (5) freedom of academic and cultural expression. A given issue is assessed by multiple, independent experts for each country in each year based on a pre-defined scale. Some 2,000 experts – typically academicians in the respective country – have so far contributed such assessments. The ratings of individual coders are aggregated into country-year scores for each indicator. In the dataset, the index is complemented by some additional, factual indicators, assessing states’ de jure commitments to academic freedom at (6) constitutional and (7) international levels, as well as (8) whether universities have ever existed in a given country.

The index for each country is a score between 0 and 1. For a global comparison of AFI scores, GPPI grouped 170 plus countries into five groups, assigning “A” status to all countries with an AFI score of between 1.0 and 0.8, “B” status between 0.8 and 0.6, “C” status between 0.6 and 0.4, “D” status between 0.4 and 0.2, and “E” status
between 0.2 and 0.0.

China, with a score of 0.082, remains one of the least academically free countries, along with North Korea, Cuba, and Syria, in the lowest rated E category.

Most of the countries with an A grade are European and North American countries. Belgium and Latvia, at 0.97 each, tied for the championship, followed by Italy with 0.969. The United States and the United Kingdom scored 0.901 and 0.915 respectively, also an A status.

Taiwan is ranked with an A grade with a score of 0.874, joined by South Korea, Nepal and Mongolia, making it one of the few Asian countries in the top tier. Japan was rated with a B grade this year with a score of 0.711, while Singapore fell into C with a score of 0.466.

It is interesting to note that Hong Kong is rated D with an index of 0.348, in the same level as Uganda, with a score even lower than Russia (0.374), Cambodia (0.381) and Vietnam (0.377).

Hong Kong’s Academic Freedom Index has dropped significantly by more than 0.15 points over the past five years. Other countries whose scores have fallen by more than 0.15 points in recent years include Brazil, Nicaragua, Zambia, Turkey and Colombia.

Source: Global Public Policy Institute, March 11, 2021