Academic Freedom Project

Russian Understanding
of Academic  Freedom


Report of the Center for Independent Social Research


The report is based on the empirical study carried out in January-June 2020.

Project participants: Lyubov Ezhova, Dmitry Dubrovsky, Irina Olimpieva.


No systematic analysis of the current status of academic freedom in Russia has yet been
conducted. Those research studies carried out by the government within the framework of the reforms initiated in the fields of science and education pay no substantive attention to the effects of these reforms on academic rights and freedoms. Although information about the growth of political and ideological pressure on scientists and teachers is increasingly available in the mass media and on social networks, there is no general understanding of academic freedoms in Russia and of their dynamics—that is, how they have changed—in recent decades.

At the same time, the significant institutional changes that have taken place in science and education in recent decades, as well as the general strengthening of government control and supervision, have resulted in a contraction of academic freedom, a situation that requires further research and broad discussion.

How have relations between science and the government changed over the past 10 or
20 years? What do scientists themselves mean by “academic freedom”? What are the current restrictions on academic freedoms and what do they mean for Russian science and education? A study conducted in January-June 2020 by the Center for Independent Sociological Research sought to answer these questions.

The subject of the research is how representatives of the Russian academic-scientific community perceive and evaluate academic freedoms and their current status.

Research method—problem-oriented interviews. We conducted a total of 24 interviews with academics, educators, and experts.

Our respondents can be roughly divided into 5 groups:

  • scientists and representatives of scientific institutions who turned out to be under pressure from the government (9 interviews);
  • representatives of scientific institutions/universities that receive funding mainly from the state budget (5 interviews);
  • representatives of non-governmental research institutions/universities (2
  • experts of the Russian and international scientific communities in the field of science and education (3 interviews); and
  • representatives of public institutions, professional communities, and public
    figures (5 interviews).

The interviews ranged in length from 40 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes.

The sample includes not only scientists and teachers directly affected by the violation of their rights and freedoms, but also representatives of the administrations of state and non-state scientific and educational institutions, public figures, and experts in the field of science and education. Our interviewees represent both central and regional universities. In effect, the sample was limited to scientists working in the social sciences and humanities. It focused mainly on universities, and, to a lesser extent, research institutions. The gender composition turned out to be male-dominant.

A qualitative methodology does not entail making overall evaluations based on quantitative measurements. Our task was to describe the spectrum of existing ideas related to academic freedom, highlighting the various ways in which it is perceived, as well as our respondents’ opinions about the state of academic freedom in Russia today and its dynamics in recent decades.

The COVID-19 situation compelled us to conduct most of the interviews online, but this did not affect our respondents’ high degree of interest in the topic and their willingness to discuss it, for which we are deeply grateful.

"Russian Understanding of Academic Freedom"

Report on the Results of Sociological Research