TENSION IS inevitable between the great research universities and the government. But there's currently a rising concern among the universities that the government is pressing them harder and is gaining ground. The universities always want the latitude to follow their research where it takes them, and to publish the results openly. The government, which provides the money for much of this work, usually wants a measure of control. That's always been the case. But increasingly it seems to want more control -- to see the results of research before they are published, for example, and even to have the authority to deny publication.

These issues often do not involve national security in any conventional sense, but rather an inclination on the part of the administration here and there to push security restrictions beyond their traditional limits. John Shattuck, a vice president of Harvard, has written a memorandum that cites some of the points that currently raise academic anxieties. He cites the presidential order to require all government employees with access to certain kinds of classified information to agree to censorship of anything that they might write for the rest of their lives. The administration withdrew that rule last year, but only temporarily. If it is put into force, it will constitute a formidable barrier to government service for many academics. That would be a disservice both to the government and to the quality of scholarship on public affairs.

The administration is expanding its efforts to control the export of many kinds of technology, and those efforts are not confined to machinery. In the universities, it raises questions regarding which students can take what courses. Harvard has had inquiries from the State Department about the work being done there by Chinese students and, in one case, a Polish scholar. Congress probably will renew the Export Administration Act this year, and some senators want language written into it that would strengthen the restraints on the flow of academic knowledge to foreigners.

Congress will have to settle that one. But in other cases, the universities themselves are going to have to carry the primary responsibility to protect their integrity. Mr. Shattuck cites an increasingly long list of federal agencies that have been trying to push clauses into research contracts requiring universities to submit the results of research to government review before publication. They include the National Institute of Education, the EPA and the FDA -- which suggests that national security isn't at stake. A university can always avoid that kind of degrading restriction by refusing to sign the contract, as Harvard has occasionally had to do. That's a loss to boththe university and to the government. But academic freedom is like other kinds of freedom. It endures only as long as people think that it's worth the price.