Academia under pressure – cultural relations policy aims to create open spaces

27.04.2018 - Article

As a result of wars, crises and autocratic regimes, academia is coming under pressure in a growing number of countries. At a three-day conference in Berlin, ideas, concepts and initiatives were presented on how to help scholars and students at risk.

How free is academia?

Scholars discussing freedom of research
Scholars discussing freedom of research© Alexander von Humboldt Foundation/David Ausserhofer

Scholars face direct threats in many parts of the world. The international congress, The University and the Future of Democracy, which took place in Berlin from Tuesday to Thursday (24–26 April), thus addressed a key issue, that of scholars at risk. The Philipp Schwartz Initiative, which is co-funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Federal Foreign Office, is one example of how there are very practical ways to support persecuted scholars. It helps researchers who have fled their countries to find protection at German universities.

A role model for courageous cultural policy

A key task of cultural relations and education policy is to create and preserve civil-society open spaces. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas thus expressly supports the Philipp Schwartz Initiative:

Wars, crises and autocratic governments are increasingly curtailing freedom of the arts, research and expression worldwide. To counteract this trend, we have a cultural relations policy that creates and protects open spaces. The Philipp Schwartz Initiative is a role model for courageous cultural policy that provides protection to persecuted scholars in Germany. With the support of Members of the German Bundestag, we are working with partner organisations to also give opportunities to persecuted artists in Germany in the future.

Overcoming traumatic experiences

The Philipp Schwartz Initiative enables universities and research institutes to give fellowships to researchers at risk. To date, over 100 scholars have been able to continue working in their research field in Germany after fleeing their country. During the three-day conference, a large number of scholars from the programme reported on their experiences, which were at times traumatic, as persecuted scholars and on how important the Philipp Schwartz Initiative is for them. One scholar said that the Initiative had “made her a person again” and “given her back her life”. Rob Quinn, Executive Director of the Scholars at Risk Network, underlined that Germany was a role model worldwide in this area and expressed the hope that other countries would follow its example


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