Council for Assisting Refugee Academics

Council for Assisting Refugee Academics

The Council for Assisting Refugee Academics is a British charitable organization dedicated to assisting academics who, for reasons including persecution and conflict, are unable to continue their research in their countries of origin. Academics are given funding and other support to relocate to the United Kingdom and rebuild their careers.

The organization, originally named the Academic Assistance Council (A.A.C.), was founded in 1933 to assist Jewish and other academics forced to flee the Nazi regime. It was consolidated to become the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning in 1936, and in 1997 was renamed the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics.



Whilst studying in Vienna in 1933, William Beveridge, director of the London School of Economics and Political Science, learned that academics deemed ‘undesirable’ by the Nazi government were being dismissed from their positions. Dismayed by this, Beveridge returned to England keen to help scholars displaced from Germany.[1] He conceived the idea for the A.A.C., and persuaded the prominent physicist Ernest Rutherford to become its first president, and physiologist A.V. Hill its vice-president.

In May of the same year, Beveridge distributed a letter publicizing the creation of the A.A.C. Having been signed by leading academics, amongst them five Nobel laureate scientists, the document was published in major British newspapers. In June, Rutherford identified the charity’s aims in a journal as twofold; the first was to create a fund for the academic assistance of displaced scholars, the second ‘to act as a centre of information’, putting academics in touch with the institutions ‘that can best help them’.[2]

The organisation soon took off. The LSE agreed to provide posts for refugee scholars, and Albert Einstein’s October speech at the Albert Hall was quick to generate publicity. After less than eight months of operation, the council had generated more than £10,000 in funds.

Both the need and merit of applications were considered by an Allocation Committee.[3] At first only short term grants of up to a year were awarded, but dismissals became increasingly frequent. As a result, in June 1936 the A.A.C. was consolidated and expanded into the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning. To explain this change, Rutherford wrote that ‘the council hoped that its work might be required for only a temporary period, but is now convinced that there is a need for a permanent body to assist scholars’.[4]

By the beginning of the Second World War, the S.P.S.L. had assisted 900 academics, and both throughout and after the conflict it continued to do so.

Key figures

William Beveridge

William Beveridge (1879-1963) was an economist, social reformer, politician and the A.A.C.'s founder. According to historian David Zimmerman he had a key role in the charity, as 'policy-making was left to the honorary secretaries, Beveridge and C.S. Gibson'. He was also well-known for his key role in developing Britain's Welfare State. Born in Rangpur, Bangladesh, he trained as a lawyer at Balliol College, Oxford. Beveridge worked in the Civil service before becoming director of the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1919. At first heavily influenced by the Fabian Society, he later joined the Liberal Party.

Ernest Rutherford

Lord Ernest Rutherford, (1871–1937), often referred to as the 'father' of nuclear physics, was the society’s first president. The Nobel Prize winning physicist often engaged with politics; Rutherford was Chairman of the government’s advisory council on scientific research, and campaigned against government censorship of the BBC and the use of aircraft in warfare. Historian David Zimmerman wrote that Rutherford 'commanded the respect' of both scientists and the British public, thus attracting a great deal of publicity to the charity.

A.V. Hill

Archibald Vivian Hill (1886–1977), a founder member and vice-president of the S.P.S.L., combined a career as a physiologist with a life of political responsibility. Amongst other posts, Hill was an independent MP for Cambridge University during the Second World War. He won a Nobel Prize for his work on mechanical work in muscles. He was a champion of academic freedom, denouncing the persecution of Jews, and specifically Jewish academics, under the Nazi regime.[5]


The charity's current president is Sir John Ashworth, and its present chair Professor Sir Robert Boyd. C.A.R.A.'s vice-president is Professor Deian Hopkin, its honorary secretary Professor Paul Broda, and its honorary treasurer Mark Wellby. The current executive secretary is Professor John Akker.


Canadian historian David Zimmerman argues in his paper, 'The Society for the Protection of Science and Learning and the Politicization of British Science in the 1930s', that the SPSL was the first and most important organisation to politicize British scientists, sweeping ‘many from the confines of the academy into the world of political affairs’. He claims its role 'in the history of academic freedom has not been adequately recognized', and seeks to readdress this. He writes that the S.P.S.L. 'became a quasi-government agent' and 'helped rescue a generation of European scholars'.

Historian Gary Werskey, author of The Visible College, emphasised the speed and efficiency with which the A.A.C. was established. He wrote, 'within a matter of weeks after the first expulsions of Jewish scholars from Germany, researchers like Hill and Lord Rutherford were able to set up an Academic Assistance Council'.


  1. ^ Lord Beveridge, Power and Influence (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1953) 234-235
  2. ^ Lord Rutherford, Science, New Series, Vol. 77, No. 2009 (Jun. 30, 1933), pp. 620-621
  3. ^ David Zimmerman, The Society for the Protection of Science and Learning and the Politicization of British Science in the 1930s (Minerva, 2006) 44: 25-45
  4. ^ Lord Rutherford and Rutherford Of Nelson, Science, New Series, Vol. 83, No. 2155 (Apr. 17, 1936), pp. 372-372
  5. ^ Hill, A.V. The international status and obligations of science, Nature 132: 952-954, 1933

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