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Appeals from at-risk academics ‘at highest levels since WW2’

 Image: Oleksandr Lapshyn

Head of UK charity supporting threatened researchers adds to calls for more government support

The Council for At-Risk Academics has said that it is receiving more appeals for support than at any time since the Nazi oppression of academics during the Second World War.

Speaking to Research Professional News, Stephen Wordsworth, the executive director of the UK-based charity, has added to calls for the government to build on support provided to researchers fleeing Ukraine by creating a permanent scheme.

Cara was founded in 1933 in response to Nazi persecution and has supported 16 Nobel Prize winners, including quantum mechanics pioneer Max Born and chemist Max Perutz.

“In our 90th year, we are now receiving more requests for help than at any time since we were founded,” Wordsworth said.

The majority of appeals are from Ukraine, the Middle East, Sudan and Afghanistan, with 170 researchers from 17 countries currently supported by a Cara fellowship and hosted at UK universities.

“It is the generous support of these universities which enables us to continue our mission to rescue these threatened academics from grave danger around the world,” Wordsworth said.

Ukraine appeal

Around 180 Ukrainian academics have been supported by the government-funded Researchers at Risk programme, which is run by Cara and the British Academy. Launched in 2022 following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Researchers at Risk was backed with nearly £13 million in public money.

Last week, Julian Lewis, chair of the joint Intelligence and Security Committee, called on the government to extend the scheme and open it up to academics in other countries.

Wordsworth told Research Professional News that he fully endorsed the call from Lewis.

“A smaller, permanent, government-funded ‘background-level’ scheme that could be scaled up quickly in response to future crises around the world would be a valuable complement to Cara’s own work and would give the UK an important additional tool in responding quickly and effectively to such crises,” Wordsworth said.

He added that there are many countries “where academics face heightened risks from conflict or oppression, imprisonment and murder at the hands of despotic regimes and extremist groups who see free-thinking academics as a threat”.

Broader support

On top of the 180 government-funded fellowships for Ukrainians, Cara is funding 37 academics who have fled the conflict. The charity said that the vast majority are women, as male citizens between 18 and 60 are prohibited from leaving Ukraine.

Cara is also funding 10 Russian academics who have openly criticised the war and Vladimir Putin’s regime.

The charity’s fellowships provide support to researchers and their dependants, covering their salaries, research expenses and living costs.

Of the more than 40 Afghan academics Cara has brought to the UK, 12 are women. Women have been banned from attending universities in the country since December 2022.