Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015 [Post 14 of a Series]


Continental Europe

In 2015, as the influx of refugees into Europe began to reach crisis proportions, Markus Kressler and Juan David Mendieta co-founded Kiron University, an institution exclusively available to refugees. The two major issues for the university’s potential students were access and funding. The issue of access was addressed by making the university entirely online. The issue of cost was addressed by initiating a crowd-funding campaign, by enlisting more than 100 volunteer fund-raisers and instructors, and by drawing upon available online courses: “Kiron uses courses put online by existing universities–including Harvard, Yale, Cambridge and MIT–to provide courses in engineering, computer science, business administration, architecture and intercultural studies. The courses are certified by the European Credit Transfer System, making each degree program internationally recognized” (Heilpern). However, that’s not to say Kiron does not have input in its degree programs. The university produces its own learning materials, third-party content and e-learning technology. The goal of the crowd-funding campaign was €120,000, but, by the target date, €233,557 (about $250,000) had been raised” (Heilpern).

Although Kiron University is based in Berlin, Germany, Mendieta, Head of Technology at Kiron University, and his team of volunteer developers . . . are based in Brussels, . . .‘ideal because of the proximity to the European Parliament and NGOs’” (Heilpern).  Although in fall 2015, it was “in a test stage limited to 1,200 students, the university has plans to provide free higher education for all refugees who are able to gain access to the internet via computer, tablet or smart phone, wherever they are in the world” (Heilpern). The university “also provides special language courses, laptops, internet access and even psychological counseling for its students” (Heilpern). It will take full-time students three years to complete baccalaureate degrees, “as is the norm in Europe”; although the degrees can be completed entirely online, third-year students “will have the chance to study on campus at established universities” (Heilpern).

In terms of the immediate challenges facing Kiron University, Kressler conceded that there was a “need for more ‘physical spaces’ and student hubs across Europe, so that students can meet up more often . . . [and] have something closer to a traditional university experience” (Heilpern). In addition, given the ever-widening scope of the refugee crisis, it is unlikely that the university will be able to meet the demand for its programs with an entirely volunteer staff; additional fund-raising will be needed to provide for paid staff (Heilpern).


Marcus Kressler, Kiron University


Juan David Mendieta, Kiron University


In fall 2015, students in Belarus engaged in protests that culminated in a “March of Love and Solidarity” that took place on December 2. Hundreds of students marched to protests new fees introduced by the administration of the Belarusian State University in Minsk: Starting in January 2016, “students will have to pay the equivalent of $2 (£1.30) to retake a failed exam, $18 to $34 for a course paper, and $156 for a graduate thesis defense, the BelTA news agency reported in November” (Grove). To put those fees in perspective, “the average monthly wage in Belarus, a landlocked country situated between Russia and Poland, is as low as $200 a month (Grove). University administrators stated that the new fees will affect only a very limited number of students and warned the protesting students that they were “’engaging in political activity and had some political forces behind them who were paying for these protests’” (Grove). The offices of student organizations believed to be involved in the protests were ransacked, and extra exams were scheduled at the same times as the protest marches. A faculty member at the university also pointed out that “male students have additional reasons to worry about expulsion–-they fear conscription to the army after being kicked out of university” (Grove). Having “joined the Bologna Process in May 2015, Belarus is obliged to ‘implement the road map of higher school reform and comply with western academic freedoms and values’” (Grove). But, quite obviously, the level compliance has thus far been very limited, at best.



The impact of Russian foreign policy on the development of its universities was addressed by Anatoly Oleksiyenko, associate professor in the division of policy, administration and social sciences education at the University of Hong Kong. Oleksiyenko asserted that Russian universities had “’huge potential before 2014’”: “the Russian government’s Project 5-100–launched in 2013 and designed to provide enough federal support to help at least five institutions enter the world top 100 by 2020–was ‘very motivational’; but . . . ‘internationalisation was compromised following the 2014 crisis in Ukraine, when Russian politicians pulled their country into a major conflict with the West’” (Bothwell). Worse, in Oleksiyenko’s view, “’the Russian political establishment has only intensified its confrontational policies in the global political arena, . . . . [which will] have long-term effects on the universities’ international collaborations, . . . [especially for] social scientists . . . [who have the greatest challenges navigating] ‘this complicated environment’” (Bothwell). Oleksiyenko noted that “’Russian social science has a tradition of dissident scholarship, which means that most of the influential publications would appear in foreign universities, given that critically minded philosophers, sociologists, political scientists and others tend to leave when repressive and confrontational governance takes hold at home’” One suspects that he may be describing his own professional situation.

Oddly, given the continuing and even intensifying issues with the Chinese government’s constraints on political expression and academic freedom, it is somewhat surprising that Oleksiyenko found in China a model that the Russian government and universities might attempt to emulate: “’Many Chinese academics, who hold Ivy League doctoral degrees, were very smart in managing their collaborations with their former academic supervisors, and that has been their competitive advantage in comparison with their counterparts in other BRICS countries. Besides, the Chinese government made significant efforts to reintegrate overseas scientific talent, and thus enhanced local academic capacity to perform in accordance with global meritocratic measurements’” (Bothwell).



Anatoly Oleksiyenko, University of Hong Kong



Bothwell, Ellie. “Russian Internationalism Compromised by Political Conflicts.” Times Higher Education 3 Dec. 2015.

Heilpern, Will. “Kiron University: Open Only for Refugees.” CNN 6 Nov. 2015.


Previous Posts in the Series:

Post 1. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 1]:

Post 2. Canada—University of British Columbia [Part 2]:

Post 3. Canada—University of New Brunswick:

Post 4. Canada—Capilano University:

Post 5. Canada—Overview:

Post 6. Canada—Additional Items:

Post 7. Australia– Nikolic, Powell, and Price:

Post 8: Australia–Copenhagen Consensus Centre at Flinders University and Monash University Branch Campus in China:

Post 9: New Zealand—Police and Government Interference in Academic Freedom, Tertiary Education Union and Association of Scientists:

Part 10: United Kingdom, Part 1: Free-Speech Rankings, Issues in Higher Education, and the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act:

Part 11: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015: United Kingdom, Part 2:

Part 12: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015: United Kingdom, Part 3, Scotland:

Part 13: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015: United Kingdom, Part 4, Northern Ireland:


6 thoughts on “Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015 [Post 14 of a Series]

  1. Pingback: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015 [Post 15 of a Series] | ACADEME BLOG

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  4. Pingback: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues [Post 19 of a Series] | ACADEME BLOG

  5. Pingback: Global Survey of Academic Freedom Issues in 2015: [Post 20 of a Series] | ACADEME BLOG

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