Council for At-Risk Academics

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The Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) is a British charitable organisation dedicated to assisting academics who, for reasons including persecution and conflict, are unable to continue their research in their countries of origin. Academics are given funding and other support to relocate to the United Kingdom and/or rebuild their careers.

The organisation was founded in 1933 as the Academic Assistance Council (AAC), to assist Jewish and other academics who were forced to flee the Nazi regime. In 1936 it was consolidated and renamed the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning (SPSL). In 1999 it was renamed the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA). In changed to its current name in 2014.[1] The charity is currently based on the premises of London Southbank University and continues to provide support to academics in danger.


William Beveridge

The Academic Assistance Council (AAC)[2] was initiated in April 1933 by William Beveridge. Whilst en route to Vienna he learnt of the dismissal of a number of leading professors from German universities on racial and/or political grounds and was moved to launch a ‘rescue operation’ for the increasing numbers of displaced academics. On his return to Britain Beveridge set about enlisting the support of prominent academics..

By May 22, 1933, a founding statement[3] had been produced and it was circulated amongst British universities, politicians and philanthropists. This initial rallying call focused on the need for practical support, assistance escaping persecution and relocating in British universities, and deliberately avoided making any sort of political comment.

The council was formed of 41 men and women active in British intellectual activities.[4] The council included J S Haldane and Frederick Gowland Hopkins, Lord Ernest Rutherford, Lord Rayleigh, William Bragg. Rutherford and A.V. Hill joined as President and vice President of the council, Beveridge one of two honorary secretaries.

In October 1933 ten thousand people attended an AAC event at the Albert Hall at which Albert Einstein spoke on the importance of Academic Freedom. In his address Einstein encouraged his audience to "resist the powers which threaten to suppress intellectual and individual freedom" and spoke of our duty to "care for what is eternal and highest amongst our possessions".

In 1936 the AAC changed its name to the Society for Protection of Science and Learning (SPSL). This change reflected the development of the understanding of the role of the organisation from assisting individual academics to the protection of academic freedom itself. Thousands of academics were helped by SPSL in the 1930s and 1940s. Many of these were of great distinction. Sixteen became Nobel Laureates, eighteen were knighted and over a hundred were elected as Fellows of the British Academy or the Royal Society. Ludwig Guttmann went on to found the Paralympics; Max Born was a pioneer of quantum mechanics and was one of the most prominent physicists to oppose the development of nuclear weapons; and Ernst Chain would be instrumental in the discovery of penicillin.

The SPSL’s work continued even after the Second World War had come to an end. Beveridge would later explain in his A Defence of Free Learning (1959) how "although Hitler was dead, intolerance was not" and "continued needs and the possible future crises" rendered the Society’s services as necessary as ever, in Europe and across the world.

SPSL continued to support displaced academics through the second part of the 1940s and through the 1950s, notably those who sought refuge from the Maoist regime in China and the Stalinist regime in the USSR. A number of scholars, writers and artists were rescued from the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. Most prominent of these was human rights leader Albie Sachs who was assisted by SPSL in 1966, then again in 1988. Sachs describes the "immense moral and emotional comfort" which SPSL’s assistance provided and continues to be a supporter of the charity. SPSL’s work continued in the 70s and 80s with the assistance of academics that fled Augusto Pinochet’s Chile.

Since the 90s SPSL’s focus has shifted to the Middle East, particularly Iraq and Iran, and to troubled regions of Africa. In 1999 SPSL was renamed Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA).In 2014 CARA was renamed again, but retained its acronym, becoming the Council for At-Risk Academics. This change reflected the fact that CARA help not only ‘refugees’, but also many people who have had to leave their home countries temporarily but hope to return, as well as academics who, though threatened, are still working in their home countries

Prominent academics assisted by AAC/SPSL/CARA[edit]

Amongst the 1,500 academics assisted in the early years, sixteen went on to win Nobel Prizes, eighteen received Knighthoods, well over a hundred were elected as Fellows of The Royal Society and The British Academy, and many more became leaders in their respective fields.

  • Sir Walter Bodmer, a prominent human geneticist who is also credited with expanding public understanding of the sciences.
  • Sir Hermann Bondi, a mathematician who helped develop radar and influenced relativity theory, served as Chief Scientist to two UK government departments and as Master of Churchill College, Cambridge.
  • Max Born became the Tait Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh and won the Nobel Prize in 1954 for his pioneering work in quantum mechanics.
  • Sir Ernst Chain won the Nobel Prize in 1945 for his shared work on penicillin.
  • Sir Geoffrey Elton, a historian and philosopher of history, helped to advance understanding of the Tudor government.
  • Sir Ernst Gombrich brought fundamental questions of aesthetics in art to scholarly and public attention.
  • Sir Ludwig Guttmann and his family were helped to emigrate from Nazi Germany in 1939. SPSL negotiated with the Home Office on their behalf, donated a sum of £250 (equivalent to around £10,000 in today's money) and helped them to establish themselves in Oxford. Here they stayed in the family of home of Lord Lyndsay, SPSL Councillor and Master of Balliol College.[5] Guttmann went on to found the National Spinal Injuries Clinic in Stoke Mandeville Hospital where he revolutionised the treatment of those with spinal injury and went on to establish what would go on to become the Paralympics.
  • Sir Peter Hirsch modernised the study of materials science and engineering at Oxford University.
  • Sir Otto Kahn-Freund was a leading theorist and practitioner of labour law.
  • Sir Bernard Katz won the Nobel Prize in 1950 for shared research on mechanisms of neuro-muscular transmission.
  • Sir Hans Kornberg works on the nature and regulation of carbohydrate transport in micro-organisms and advises Parliament on science and technology.
  • Sir Hans Krebs won the Nobel Prize in 1953 for his shared research into the complex sequence of metabolic chemical reactions known as the Krebs Cycle.
  • Sir Claus Moser, a prominent statistician, directed the Central Statistics Office and served as Pro-Vice Chancellor of Oxford University.
  • Sir Rudolf Peierls taught theoretical physics at Birmingham and Oxford and was involved in both the development of atomic weaponry and the Pugwash anti-nuclear movement.
  • Max Perutz won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1962 for shared research into the structure of haemoglobin which added to our understanding of diseases of the blood.
  • Sir Nikolaus Pevsner brought new perspectives on the UK's architectural heritage to scholars and the wider public.
  • Sir Karl Popper, a hugely influential political and social philosopher, was a critic of totalitarianism in all its forms.
  • Sir Francis Simon pioneered research in thermodynamics and low-temperature physics at Oxford's Clarendon Laboratory.
  • Albie Sachs was helped by SPSL in 1966, and again in 1988.
  • Jack Mapanje

Governance and Organisation[edit]

CARA has a Council of Management of twenty-five recruited predominantly from the world of academia. The Council meets annually in June ahead of CARA’s Annual General Meeting and the Committees twice a year. Mrs Anne Londsdale is Chair of the Council and Professor Sir Deian Hopkin is Vice-Chair. The Executive Director, Stephen Wordsworth, is charged with the day-to-day management of CARA and its members of staff.

Current work[edit]

CARA’s current work is carried out by three distinct programmes. Each of these programmes, particularly the UK programme, works in close cooperation with the CARA / SAR UK Universities Network.

UK Programme: The UK Programme provides Grants which aim to enable refugee academics to achieve employment in the UK at a level commensurate with their skills and experience in the long term. Grants can support refugee academics to re-qualify in a range of professions in the UK such as teaching, academia, engineering, law, the charity sector and medicine etc. CARA typically holds two grant rounds a year, with deadlines for applications every January and March. Decisions on applications are made by the Allocations Committee two months after the deadlines. A huge amount of support which is not financial in nature is also offered by CARA’s UK programme by way of general advice, introductions and the negotiation of fee waivers.

Iraq Programme: The Iraq Programme was launched in late 2006 in response to a targeted campaign of assassination and kidnap against Iraq's academics. Over 350 were murdered between 2003 and 2012, with thousands driven into exile or internally displaced. Through a number of complementary initiatives and in keeping with its mandate, CARA has sought to ensure that their skills and expertise are not lost to Iraq or the wider region.

Zimbabwe Programme: CARA's Zimbabwe Programme was launched in 2009, in response to a marked increase in the number of academics fleeing Zimbabwe and reports of the dramatic decline in the quality of the higher education sector. The Zimbabwe Programme aims to support the resurgence of Zimbabwe’s higher education sector as a beacon in southern Africa, central to which is the mitigation against the permanent and catastrophic loss to Zimbabwe of a major part of its academic capital that has been deprived of an academic future in country. Particularly noteworthy is the Zimbabwe Programme’s Virtual Lecture Hall initiative .[6] This project aims to utilise virtual means to enable academics in the diaspora to reconnect with the College of Health Science and the Faculties of Science and Veterinary Science at the University of Zimbabwe, thereby improving standards of teaching and research, and facilitating increased networking and collaboration.

CARA/SAR UK Universities Network: Established in March 2006, under the auspices of the UK based Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) and the New York-based Scholars at Risk (SAR), the aim of the Network is to facilitate cooperation and collaboration between UK higher education institutions in support of refugee and threatened academics and in defence and promotion of academic and university freedoms worldwide. The Network currently has over 70 university members.


Further reading[edit]

  • Zimmerman,David The Society for the Protection of Science and Learning and the Politicization of British Science in the 1930s (Minerva, 2006)
  • Seabrook, Jeremy The Refuge and The Fortress: Britain and the flight from tyranny
  • Marks, Shula (ed) In Defence of Learning
  • Pyke, David (2000) – ‘Hitler’s Gift’ (ISBN 1 86066 172 6)

External links[edit]