Press release

Forerunner for academic freedom: The Philipp Schwartz Initiative marks fifth anniversary

By creating the Philipp Schwartz Initiative, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation became Germany’s first research funding organisation to establish a funding programme to protect researchers who are persecuted and at threat. Since its creation, the programme has set a precedent nationally and internationally.

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updated on 9 April 2020

Symbolbild Philipp-Schwartz-Initiative: Drei gelbe Kreise mit einer Figur, die von einem zerstörten Tempel zu einem intakten Tempel läuft
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“Scientific and academic freedom is in danger in many countries. Fellows of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative have had to experience this at first hand. For the past five years, these individuals have found a safe haven and new prospects for the future at German universities. Launched jointly by the German Federal Foreign Office and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, this initiative has had a strong impact on the development of occupational structures to protect at-risk researchers and on these individual’s integration in Germany”, said Michelle Müntefering, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, on the occasion of the initiative’s fifth anniversary.

Philipp Schwartz Intitiative Programme information 

The first Philipp Schwartz Fellowships were awarded in 2016. Since then, 280 threatened researchers have been able to continue their research in Germany thanks to this initiative. They came from 19 different countries where they experienced war or state violence. Today, the host institutes include 91 research institutes throughout Germany. It is hard to imagine the German research landscape without the Philipp Schwartz Initiative. And not just since the Federal Foreign Office and the German Bundestag made the initiative a permanent programme in 2018.

Philipp Schwartz Initiative Dossier 

“With the Philipp Schwartz Initiative, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has shown how this can be done. And now we are a model for other countries. We are proud to be able to give threatened researchers protection and the opportunity to start again, and to make a contribution towards promoting academic freedom.”, said Hans-Christian Pape, President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

"A new beginning" Publication for the 5th anniversary of the Philipp SchwartzInitiative (PDF, 8 MB) 

To mark this year’s anniversary, the Humboldt Foundation takes a look back at the success story of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative in the publication “A New Beginning” which also includes the stories and remarks of alumni of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative, e.g. Anan Alsheikh Haidar. They report about their individual backgrounds, their personal experiences with the German science system and the challenges it brings. German researchers who as mentors have welcomed at-risk researchers into their teams also provide insights in this brochure. Representatives of the Humboldt Foundation, the Federal Foreign Office and partner organisations likewise offer their perspectives.

An evaluation of the programme in 2019 revealed that a large number of recipients could secure employment immediately following their fellowship. This is perhaps the initiative's greatest achievement, Enno Aufderheide, Secretary General of the Humboldt Foundation, underscored in the special publication issued to mark the initiative’s fifth anniversary. Last year saw a further milestone in the integration of researchers at risk. Host institutions can now offer fellows employment contracts − a step that further facilitates their integration into science and academia.

At international level, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation launched the InSPIREurope project together with nine partners in 2019. InSPIREurope is a three-year initiative to support, foster and integrate at-risk researchers in Europe. It is financed by the European Union as a Marie Sklowdowska-Curie Action (MSCA).

The Humboldt Foundation has worked closely from the start within the framework of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative with international partner organisations such as the Scholars at Risk Network, the Scholar Rescue Fund and the Council for At-Risk Academics. Until March 2022, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation also provided the secretariat for the German chapter of the Scholars at Risk Network. This chapter was established in 2016.

The annual Philipp Schwartz Forum serves to network the actors in this area. The next Forum will be held on 26 April 2021 as a virtual conference. This year’s meeting will also focus on scientific and academic freedom in the Republic of Belarus.

(press release 3/2021)


Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time conducting research in Germany. The Foundation maintains an interdisciplinary network of well over 30,000 Humboldtians in more than 140 countries around the world – including 61 Nobel Prize winners.

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