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The Scholars at Risk network protects researchers from harassment and violence

Aalto University contributes to global social responsibility by being part of the international Scholars at Risk network, which promotes the freedom of science and research and safeguards scholars from harassment and violence.
Aalto University Dipoli building

The network provides academic sanctuary to threatened academics fleeing violence and harassment. Researchers can continue their research at the universities and colleges participating in the network.

Aalto University is one of the founding members of SAR Finland, a section of SAR international established by the Finnish universities. Finnish universities have hosted threatened scholars in need either with their own funding or by applying for external funding. Aalto, for example, has received scholars from Yemen and Syria.

The protection of scholars grows ever more important

Professor Elina Vuola from the University of Helsinki chairs Scholars at Risk Finland. According to her, SAR’s basic function of protecting scholars is becoming even more important in today’s turbulent world.

Issues of academic freedom have recently come to the fore in European countries. Even when a researcher isn’t facing direct harassment or threats, their research may be made practically impossible for political reasons. Scholars also face risks from armed conflicts, such as in Ukraine, or authoritarian governments, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Elina Vuola is pleased that all of Finland’s universities are involved in SAR Finland but notes that more could be done. ‘A researcher's SAR status in itself does not yet guarantee funding, so individual universities play a central role in organizing a place and funding,’ Vuola says.

Aalto University, Dipoli, Partners lounge, artwork

There is always light at the end of the tunnel

Two researchers who came to Aalto University with the help of scholars at risk activities agreed to talk anonymously about their experiences.

‘Due to the unrest and war in my home country, I reached out for possible relocation to a safe place to continue my research,’ says the first researcher. ‘I advise any scholar at risk to reach out for help. SAR and other similar organisations represent a great help for international scholars at risk. Any scholar at risk can reach out and apply for the program.’

They continue, ‘International organisations and their partner universities and individuals are doing a great job for scholars at risk. They are not only saving scholars’ lives but are also providing a safe place for them to continue their academic work, as well as for their kids to continue school. Importantly, they also save expertise and help scholars improve their skills. This will allow the scholars to make meaningful contributions in their country, if and when the country recovers and return is possible.’ 

The second researcher advises that ‘if you get stuck in a threatened country, and you feel that you will lose what you have learned during your long academic journey or maybe face a direct security threat – never give up, do whatever you can to secure your future.’ 

They suggest applying for jobs elsewhere ‘even with low income, as long as they are within your academic track’ and also offer a reminder that ‘some people in the world are working hard not only to protect threatened scholars, but also to promote academic freedom.’ 

The researcher concludes with the thought that ‘the world is still beautiful, so please don’t be depressed -- there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. Explain your problem explicitly, try to find a way to save the knowledge you have earned, and always be positive while you create your future.’

For more information

Mervi Rantanen

Mervi Rantanen

Senior Advisor, Global Engagement

Scholars at Risk activities at Aalto University

Scholars at Risk (SAR) is a global network promoting academic freedom and protecting scholars at risk. Aalto University is a member in the Finnish universities’ SAR network.

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