Lithuania: Obligation of the Ombudsperson on higher education institutions to revoke the decision to award an academic degree is not in conflict with the Constitution
On the 3rd of December 2020, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania adopted a resolution recognizing that the obligation of the Ombudsperson for Academic Ethics and Procedures (Ombudsperson) on the higher education institution to revoke the decision to award a higher education qualification is not in conflict with the Constitution.
The Supreme Administrative Court of Lithuania (Applicant) applied to the Constitutional Court after suspending the proceedings of the administrative case, in which the legality and validity of the decision of the Ombudsperson are disputed. In the Applicant’s contested decision violations of academic ethics were ascertained and a higher education institution that has awarded the qualification of a habilitated doctor was obliged to revoke the decision on awarding a higher education qualification. The Applicant had doubts as to whether the decision of the Ombudsperson to oblige a higher education institution to revoke a higher education qualification awarded by it was not in conflict with the autonomy of higher education institutions guaranteed by the Constitution, including freedom of science and research, and the constitutional principle of the rule of law.
The Constitutional Court noted that the Constitution presupposes the powers of the relevant state institutions to inspect the quality of higher education and to ensure that the level of provided higher education, marked by appropriate qualification degrees, complies with certain uniform quality standards of higher education. Therefore, the Ombudsperson is entrusted with the inspection of academic ethics and procedures, contributing to the improvement of academic ethics standards and, at the same time, to the quality of higher education. The constitutional obligation of the state to ensure the quality of higher education also presupposes, inter alia, inspecting the compliance with the standards of academic ethics and procedures, and the autonomy of higher education institutions does not preclude disregard for academic ethics and procedures in the higher education activities, and the constitutional freedom of science and research does not release from the obligation to adhere to academic ethics, including the principle of academic integrity. This principle presupposes the prohibition of any fraud in academic activities.
The Constitutional Court also emphasized that according to the Constitution it is intolerable that qualification degrees denoting higher education and scientific qualifications be awarded regardless of the standards of academic ethics and procedures.
The Constitutional Court noted that the Seimas (parliament), while implementing the duty of the state to inspect the quality of higher education and ensure that the level of provided higher education, marked by appropriate qualification degrees, complies with certain uniform quality standards of higher education, may establish a supervisory institution entrusted with the protection of the public interest, namely to inspect the compliance with academic ethics and procedures in conducting research and study activities. Once such a supervisory institution has been established, the legislator also has a duty to establish such powers to it, that the institution can effectively perform the functions assigned to it.
Prepared by the Lithuanian Office of the Ombudsperson for Academic Ethics and Procedures
in accordance with the report of the Constitutional Court