Germany (Freie University of Berlin) Armed Conflicts, Political Crises, and the Rise of Authoritarian Regimes Pose a Significant Threat to Academic Freedom

According to a recent report from the international network “Scholars at Risk” (SAR), there have been 391 attacks on university members in sixty-five countries over the past year. Armed conflicts and political crises, including Russia’s war in Ukraine, resulted in an increased risk to research, teaching, and higher education communities as a whole between September 1, 2021 and August 31, 2022. These findings were published on Thursday, November 10, 2022, in the annual Free to Think report in which SAR analyzes attacks on academic institutions and researchers across the globe. The report aims to raise awareness of current threats to academic freedom with the goal of prompting universities to take action so that they dedicate themselves to promoting academic freedom around the world. The SAR network makes it possible for researchers from crisis zones or politically repressive states to pursue their work abroad as a visiting scholar at a member university. The findings from the Free to Think report are a cause for major concern at Freie Universität Berlin. As an educational institution that assumes responsibility on a global scale, the university considers one of its most important goals in conducting its international activities to be the protection of academic freedom. Freie Universität Berlin became the first German university to join SAR in 2012. Currently, there are thirty scholars who are refugees or at-risk carrying out research and teaching at Freie Universität. They receive financial support through different programs such as the Philipp Schwartz Initiative, Einstein Foundation, Academy in Exile, or the university’s own funds.

Vice President for International Affairs at Freie Universität Berlin, Prof. Dr. Verena Blechinger-Talcott, commented on the recent report: “As an ‘International Network University,’ we at Freie Universität see it as our duty to take a stand when academic freedom comes under attack and to show solidarity with persecuted researchers through tangible action. Attacks on university members and research institutions affect us all because they impact the ways in which we are able to think critically, raise questions, and freely exchange opinions and ideas.”

Dr. Florian Kohstall, head of the “Global Responsibility” program at Freie Universität Berlin, added: “The report shows us just how important it is to establish a safe environment for at-risk researchers and, in doing so, to support them in pursuing their research.”

One of Freie Universität Berlin’s most important objectives is to put measures in place to assist students and researchers who are at-risk or refugees. Aside from Scholars at Risk, the university is also involved in the transnational peer-mentoring program “Academics in Solidarity,” which is funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research and aims to facilitate the long-term reintegration of exiled researchers into scholarly life. One hundred and thirty researchers are currently participating in the program across Germany.

Freie Universität Berlin also offers current and prospective students who are refugees the opportunity to take part in the “Welcome@FUBerlin” program, which provides them with the support they need to begin or continue a degree at a German university. There are 115 people currently attending language classes to prepare for their future studies.

Freie Universität Berlin has laid out its principles concerning its commitment to protecting and defending academic freedom while maintaining international partnerships in its Internationalization and Academic Freedom strategy paper.