In early 2016, the University of Tampere joined the Scholars at Risk (SAR) network, an international network of higher education institutions working to protect threatened scholars and promote academic freedom. The participating universities invite threatened scholars to work as visiting researchers or to speak at academic events.
“It is important to support scholars in vulnerable positions not only for humanitarian reasons but also because academic knowledge must be protected and promoted. Freedom of research is a prerequisite for the work of universities and this is an international matter,” says Liisa Laakso, Rector of the University of Tampere.
“The persecution of scholars, for example in Turkey, also has serious consequences for research conducted in Finland and Finnish researchers. Cooperation projects suffer and it has been necessary to cancel meetings.”
“The University of Tampere actively participates in condemning all persecution against researchers and looks for ways to protect individual scholars,” Laakso says.
There are currently two visiting researchers at the University of Tampere who arrived through the SAR network and who are threatened in their home country.
Since it was founded in 2000, the SAR network has given over 700 researchers the opportunity to work safely.
Besides the University of Tampere, three other Finnish universities are taking part in the network: the University of the Arts Helsinki, the University of Helsinki and Åbo Akademi University.
The SAR network emphasises the responsibility of the international academic community
Lecturer Pirjo Nikander is the contact person for the network at the University of Tampere.
“The Scholars at Risk network emphasises the responsibility of the international academic community to support colleagues whose work is threatened,” Nikander says.
“The debate around this issue and acts of support by signing electronic appeals, for example, have increased in social and other media throughout the summer.”
“Finnish universities, including the University of Tampere, have investigated how many Turkish scholars working in Finland have been called back to their home country. At the same time, the University of Tampere Doctoral School has received a few enquiries from Turkish researchers.”
“This kind of pressure will certainly increase in many European universities if the situation in Turkey keeps escalating,” Nikander argues.
Finland supports Syrians and Iraqis through the Scholar Rescue Fund programme
Finland joined the Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF) award programme in January 2016.
The programme, founded by the Institute of International Education in the United States, offers opportunities for threatened scholars to continue their work safely in another country.
In Finland, SRF supports Syrian and Iraqi researchers from different academic fields who are starting out in their careers. CIMO, the Finnish expert organisation in international mobility and co-operation, acts as an intermediary.
By the summer of 2015, SRF, which was founded in 2002, had assisted more than 610 researchers from over 53 countries. More than 300 higher education institutions from over 40 countries have hosted these scholars.
At present, Syrian and Iraqi researchers, among others, are applying to this programme.
EU’s Science4Refugees uses the Researchers in Motion portal
The EU is also working to support researchers who have become refugees or asylum seekers. The European Commission has launched the Science4Refugees initiative to help refugee researchers find suitable jobs that both improve their own situation and put their skills and experience to good use in the European research system. The University of Tampere has also joined the Science4Refugees initiative.
Contacts can be made via the EURAXESS – Researchers in Motion portal.