Scholars at Risk is an international network that assists scholars at risk because of their research. The organisation’s goal is to protect scholars and the freedom to think, question and share ideas, in short the freedom to do research.
“As scholars, we are citizens of the global academy and have a responsibility to assist vulnerable scholars,” says Anna Jonsson Cornell, academic representative in the Scholars at Risk reference group at Uppsala University. “We strive for academic freedom and the primacy of argument [to examine the argument per se – not the sender], which is absolutely essential for a sustainable, open and democratic society. Scholars at Risk is an important contribution to ensuring the freedom of research and of scholars.”

First time in 2019

Uppsala University is a member of Scholars at Risk and works actively to offer sanctuary positions to scholars who for various reasons cannot do research in their home country. The administrative work is done by the Human Resources Division within the University Administration, but it is of course the department itself that hosts the scholars. Last year was the first time that Uppsala University gave a sanctuary position to a scholar through Scholars at Risk.

Since its inception in 2000, Scholars at Risk has assisted around 1200 scholars to find an initial one-year sanctuary position. The initiative was taken at the University of Chicago in 1999 and the network was launched at an international conference in June 2000. As of August 31, 2020, the total number of scholars whose cases are open for assistance with SAR is 455. This includes scholars for whom SAR is actively conducting outreach assistance for placement within the network, as well as scholars for whom SAR is providing more advisory services in support of their independent academic job efforts.

Assist a scholar

The process of offer sanctuary to a scholar begins with the Human Resources Division sending out a request to the departments asking if they can host a scholar. This year, the request was sent out on 8 September and responses must be received by 22 September.
“We then pass on the responses received to the organisation Scholars at Risk. They match scholars who want to come here with the departments that are able to offer them a sanctuary position and then submit suggestions for candidates that our departments could host,” says Alexander Grönberg, HR generalist at the Human Resources Division.

If Scholars at Risk have found a potential scholar, the department then has to decide whether to offer the scholar a sanctuary position. The department is given access to the candidate’s CV and other relevant documentation, but without the name of the scholar.
“It is important to try to keep the names as secret as possible,” says Emma Gustafsson, HR generalist at the Human Resources Division.

Support is vital

The financials are managed in the form of a scholarship covering the scholar’s salary cost for one year. Uppsala University has funding for up to two such scholarships via Scholars at Risk each year and the final decision is made by the Vice-Chancellor.

If the department is positive to the suggestion, the Security and Safety Division is contacted to review all the safety concerns that may be involved.
“We also talk to the department. In order for this to work, there must be a true commitment, that as a hosting researcher and department, they are prepared to support the scholar who comes to their department. For example, the scholar may have been traumatised by events in their home country,” says Alexander Grönberg.

The scholarship lasts for one year, but a longer-term solution is often needed, as the fundamental problem most likely will not disappear.
“Yes, you have to see the first year as a starting point for continuing the research while also finding solutions for the future. Although it might feel awkward, we urge you to have that discussion immediately when the scholar arrives, since it takes time to find solutions,” says Emma Gustafsson.

Get involved

If you want to get involved in Scholars at Risk, there are several things you can do.
“As a researcher, you can of course register your interest in hosting a scholar at risk. Discuss this with your head of department or equivalent who will have received more information from us.”

However, you can of course also get involved by participating in other activities run by Scholars at Risk, such as lectures on the importance of research freedom.
“Anyone interested in getting involved is welcome to contact us and we will contact the Swedish chapter of Scholars at Risk, who would love to get into contact with more people who want to get involved in these efforts,” says Alexander Grönberg.