Over eighty years later, many academics and scientists around the world are still at grave risk. Those who say and write what they think are often seen as a potential focus of opposition, and so are targeted by repressive regimes or by extremist groups. Peaceful protest alone can be enough to attract persecution, arrest and prison, or even murder. Those who want to survive are forced into self-censorship. Elsewhere, as law and order break down in conflict, academics trying to continue their research or teaching find their students becoming radicalised and dangerously hostile, or just staying away as normal study becomes impossible. Those who work in state-run universities or teaching hospitals may be hunted down and murdered by extremists, as ‘stooges’ of the state. Simply getting to and from work can involve a whole catalogue of risks – arrest, robbery or forced conscription at checkpoints along the route, being kidnapped for ransom, injury or even death from crossfire or stray shells. In other countries, the danger can have very specific roots – an individual may belong to the ‘wrong’ religion or ethnic group, or be of the ‘wrong’ sexual orientation in a society where being different risks getting you beaten up, or even killed.
What happens to them matters. Not just as individuals, important though that is; but because each and every one of them represents the future of higher education in their countries. Where people cannot speak, write, teach and meet, freely and without fear, education is compromised, truth is denied and lies become established. Where academics and scientists are killed or scattered to the four corners of the world, intellectual capital is lost and ruined societies cannot be re-built. Where higher education is destroyed, there will soon be no new teachers, no doctors, no architects, no lawyers. Young people will learn no skills. With no futures, some may turn to extremism. That country will suffer for generations. And the whole world will suffer with it.
So academics, researchers and institutional leaders who are in grave danger must be helped, where necessary rescued, and their knowledge preserved. Those who want to go home should be helped to prepare to return when circumstances permit, to rebuild their countries’ infrastructure and higher education communities. But those who cannot return, because of the continuing dangers, must be helped to build new lives, bringing their new perspectives and international experiences to enrich the universities that will host them, in the UK or elsewhere.
Cara is a unique charitable organisation, with no counterpart in Europe. It is firmly embedded in the UK higher education and research community. Sixty-five percent of UK higher education institutions are actively engaged with Cara’s work. Cara has a growing number of international partners too, giving it a global reach.
“If we want to resist the powers which threaten to suppress intellectual and individual freedom we must keep clearly before us what is at stake … Without such freedom, there would have been no Shakespeare, no Goethe, no Newton, no Faraday, no Pasteur and no Lister”
Albert Einstein at the Royal Albert Hall, 1933