The Auckland Declaration

Auckland Declaration on the Purpose of the University in the 21st Century

Editorial committee

Chris Newfield (University of California Santa Barbara), Cris Shore (University of Auckland), Roxana Chiappa Baros (University of Washington), Nick Lewis (University of Auckland), Jill Blackmore (Deakin University), Rebecca Lund (Aarhus University), Rachel Douglas-Jones (IT University of Copenhagen) and Susan Wright (Aarhus University).



One of the great strengths of universities has been their capacity to re-invent themselves periodically over the centuries, to balance continuity and change, and to combine the self-directed and independent pursuit of knowledge with service to society. Universities are increasingly expected to be drivers of global knowledge economies, and for this reason have been evolving their relationships with an array of governmental, public, and private organisations. These changes are modifying the social contract between government, society, and higher education. The results of these conventional reforms include additional missions, new organisational complexity, excessive administrative costs, increasingly precarious academic labour, difficulties with funding basic research, and dilutions of educational quality. Current reform policies threaten to reduce the social benefits of universities at a time when their social benefits must increase.

This declaration seeks to build on these and similar precedents.  Its goal is to resituate higher education teaching and research in contemporary society by identifying six principles that form the basis of a new social contract for higher education. 


  1. Public Good
    Whereas the traditional university offered the highest quality research and education for a society’s elite, the challenge of the 21st century is to offer this top quality higher education for all, for the sake of both individual and common development. Educational investments for lower income, first generation, and non-traditional students must be similar in quality and quantity to the investments made in a given society’s elites.
  2. Social Responsibility
    Higher education’s primary responsibilities are to the wider society for improving social, cultural, political, ethical, and material welfare. Fulfilling these responsibilities requires that government and business act responsibly towards its higher education sector, and respect its freedom and autonomy, so that higher education can act as “critic and conscience of society.”
  3. Academic Freedom
    Academic freedom, as a right and responsibility of universities, allows permanent and contingent faculty members, researchers, staff, and students of all levels, without fear of sanctions, censorship, or administrative interference, to establish, shape, perpetuate, and develop their own scholarship, their academic disciplines, and the university’s research and teaching missions.
  4. Educational Autonomy
    The exercise of professional expertise depends on the autonomy of educational personnel from particular interests, whether external or internal to the university. The public value of universities depends on the ability of all members of the academic community to speak openly regardless of their position or the financial and political interests involved. Funding should go primarily to not-for-profit educational activities that support the creation and dissemination of fundamental knowledge.
  5. University Independence
    Universities’ responsibilities to societies must always take precedence over their accountability to their funders. Constraints and conditions on funding must not be used to compromise their educational autonomy, academic freedom, or social responsibility.
  6. Humane Workplace
    Institutions of higher education must provide working conditions that safeguard epistemic and social diversity, and that respect the human rights and personal dignity of each member of the learning community.  These include the right to intellectual and professional self-determination within the context of the organization’s welfare, the right not to be fired at will, the right to a workplace that does not tolerate bullying and other abuses of authority, the right to criticise the institution in public, and the right to reject inappropriate forms of assessment. 

At this critical juncture, when new reforms are eroding these principles and threatening the values and potential contributions of the university, and tax-based public funding is under increasing pressure, universities and their academic communities must be ever more vigilant. Their educational activities must be protected from special interests, including those of government. Even where universities rely on diverse sources of funding, academic freedom, university independence, social responsibility, humane working conditions, and the public good must prevail in the financial, political, and organizational decisions that affect teaching, learning and research. Governments must refrain from using financing as a mode of parochial proxy governance, and instead use their resources to support the vision of the university’s functions that is advanced by students, staff, and faculty in dialogue with the wider society.

A range of international organizations have sought to establish the distinctive character of universities.  These include:

  • The American Association of University Professors, which for a century has set standards for academic freedom, academic employment, and university governance
  • UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel (1997), which defines the multiple dimensions of academic freedom in teaching, discussion, research, institutional criticism, and public communication
  • The European university rectors’ Magna Charta Universitatum (1988), which describes the university as ‘an autonomous institution at the heart of societies’, and further states, ‘to meet the needs of the world around it, its research and teaching must be morally and intellectually independent of all political authority and economic power’
  • The Council of Europe’s Recommendation 1762 on ‘Academic freedom and university autonomy’, which insists that the university must be protected from the intrusion of economic and political interests, not for the benefit of individuals but for the fulfilment of its role in society.

Note. This declaration has arisen from the work of the EU-funded Marie Skłodowska-Curie project ‘Universities in the Knowledge Economy’ (UNIKE), whose 14 PhD and Post doc researchers, 5 associated PhDs, 6 partners and 30 associated partners from Europe and the Asia-Pacific Rim initiated the Declaration at the UNIKE conference in Auckland in February 2015. Drafting continued at UNIKE’s University Futures conference in Copenhagen in June 2016 and the text is open for comments and suggestions below until December 2016, when the text will be finalised.