Network Reflections: Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara)

Posted January 10, 2023

Cara has been working since 1933 and SAR is a relative newcomer (!), but we cooperate very closely in many ways and I value our relationship very highly. SAR has achieved an enormous amount and it’s no exaggeration to say that it has changed many lives and helped to make the world a better place.

But there’s still lots to do.  In 2005-06, Cara and SAR set up our UK University Network with some 15-20 members; Cara has worked hard to develop it since then and we now have 133 UK member institutions right across the country who have committed to work with us to provide research places, through our Fellowship Programme, for academics at risk. And that, for us, is the key; it’s not about collecting names of institutions on lists, it’s about building strong partnerships to provide urgent support to those who are in danger, offering them a safe haven with their families until, one day, they can return home.  We ask a lot of our Network members – while we raise funds ourselves and can and do contribute to the costs of awards where we have to, ideally the host institution covers the full cost, and this can be a lot if, for example, we’re talking about an early-career academic needing to study for a PhD for 3-4 years and there is a family with several children as well.  But our partner institutions are being very supportive, and many responded very generously to the two latest crises, in Afghanistan and Ukraine, by offering additional placements, in many cases fully funded.  We also have a number of Cara Fellows at institutions outside the UK, and SAR have been very helpful to us in arranging some of these.

In terms of trends, I think we are seeing a much wider appreciation generally of the vital importance of rescuing academics from danger and making it possible for them to continue their work.  Since September 2022 we have been working with SAR and others in the EU’s latest ‘Inspireurope+’ programme, which will strengthen and coordinate support in Europe for researchers at risk. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the sight of shell-damaged universities here in Europe further galvanised opinion in 2022, leading to the establishment in the UK of a new ‘Researchers at Risk’ scheme last March, specifically for Ukrainian researchers, funded by some £13m of UK Government money with support also from other institutions. Cara sits on the Selection Panel and manages all the payments to the individual researchers. Our partners in the programme are the UK’s four ‘national academies’ – the British Academy, the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Academy of Medical Sciences.  The first six rounds of applications in 2022 resulted in over 100 awards, almost all for two years, and a further round has recently been scheduled for this month, January 2023, while talks continue with the Government and others on a possible longer-term follow-on programme.

All this, of course, is alongside Cara’s regular work – and while much of that is inevitably now also focused on Afghanistan and Ukraine, we are still receiving many appeals for help from scholars in danger in other countries too, who need and deserve help, including a growing number from scholars in Russia who want no part of what is being done in their name. In parallel we are still taking forward our Syria Programme, launched in 2016 and now working with some 200 Syrian academics in exile in the region, mostly in Turkey.

There’s more detail in our 2021-22 Annual Report and we are going to have another busy year in 2023. So it’s great to know that we have strong partners, like SAR!


Stephen Wordsworth

Executive Director, Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara)