Academic asylum

May 12, 2000

John Akker's article ("Refugee academics deserve your support", THES, April 28) was timely. He is not alone in criticising the illiberal effects of the government's refugee and asylum legislation.

All asylum seekers are penalised, but we should not be ashamed to argue that academics are a special case because the nature of their profession makes them especially unpopular with dictatorial regimes. Challenging orthodoxy, opposing irrationality and asserting academic freedom have always invited persecution.

Akker is right to mention the outstanding contribution to our society that has been made by academic refugees. Another consideration is that when dictatorial regimes fall, who are better qualified to act as bridge-builders to more liberal successor regimes than academics who have been welcomed into the UK academic community? Who would be better qualified to re-introduce academic values?

Academics and their representatives should be pressing the government to think again. It is in all our interests.

P. K. Burgess. Former president. Association of University Teachers.

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