Edinburgh Global

The role of university autonomy in Higher Education

On International Education Day, Professor Sir Peter Mathieson joined other university leaders in Zurich to speak about university autonomy - the lessons learned and future efforts.

Panel of senior University leaders including Prof Sir Peter Mathieson

What is University Autonomy?

University Autonomy is an organisation's right to be independent and govern itself. This definition has been interpreted differently by universities, countries, and governments. As a result, The European University Association (EUA) created and published the University Autonomy Scorecard, providing analysis across four dimensions - organisational, financial, staffing, and academic.

We are autonomous, but we are not without scrutiny and we are not without criticism.

Professor Sir Peter MathiesonPrincipal and Vice-Chancellor, University of Edinburgh

EUA University Autonomy Scorecard 2023 results for Scotland, Switzerland and Netherlands:

  Scotland Switzerland Netherlands
Organisational autonomy 100% 55% 83%
Financial autonomy 80% 72% 66%
Staffing autonomy 96% 91% 92%
Academic autonomy 89% 72% 46%

There are indications that more autonomous universities deliver a better experience in their main mission, in their learning and teaching mission, in their research and innovation mission, but also in their outreach to society.

Thomas EstermannDirector of Governance EUA, co-author of the University Autonomy in Europe

Una.Lecture | The State of Play of University Autonomy

At the University of Zurich on 24 January 2024, the second Una.Lecture took place as part of an Una Europa series. Una.Lectures are developed within the Una.Futura project to foster a broader involvement of society and non-academic stakeholders. These events are open to a broad audience, promoting the values of Una Europa, human diversity and dignity, academic freedom, and individual well-being in the wider context of society.

Thomas Estermann, Director of Governance for EUA, began by sharing the University Autonomy Scorecard and its regulatory framework, then compared universities. Followed by in-depth panel discussion between President Peter Mathieson – the University of Edinburgh, President Hester Bijl – Leiden University, and President Michael Schaepman – University of Zurich.

Moderated by Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary General of the League of European Research Universities (LERU), the Una.Lecture focussed on the question: Is a more autonomous university a better university?

Watch the full discussion below:

Watch the Una.Lecture on Youtube 

The parting message: universities' academic, organisational and financial independence must be fiercely defended against attempts to exert external influence.

Una.Lecture in Edinburgh 

9 May 2024 - This Europe Day, join Edinburgh's Una.Lecture on the Future of Europe with a welcome address from the Principal & Vice Chancellor, Prof Sir Peter Mathieson and keynote speech from Mr Angus Robertson, Cabinet Secretary Constitution, External Affairs & Culture, Scottish Government.

The Una.Lecture will be followed by a panel discussion with academic experts and Una Europa representatives exploring Europe’s evolving landscape and the challenges ahead.

Register for Una.Lecture 

Discover more

Una Europa and the University of Edinburgh 

University of Zurich - University Autonomy is a Valuable Asset

Youtube - Una.Lecture | The State of Play of University Autonomy

EUA University Autonomy Scorecard 2023

LERU dinner debate