‘Let's give refugee researchers more security'

Photo: pxhere

In a month’s time, Van Tol will take over the helm at The Young Academy, a group of relatively young researchers affiliated with the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. But the interview takes a new direction now that war has broken out in Ukraine.

Van Tol is a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist at the University Medical Centre in Groningen. She is also involved in evaluating the Dutch Research Council’s Hestia programme for refugee researchers, which came into being thanks to partnerships with associations like The Young Academy.

Multi-year contract
“What is happening in Ukraine is extremely serious”, she says. As far as she is concerned, it is all hands on deck. In her opinion, Dutch academia should start thinking about what it can do for researchers having to flee the country and for those who stay there. After all, researchers living under suppression cannot do their job properly.

“Offer them a long-term contract at the university, with access to a library and a place to work, or partner them with a researcher who can assist them, as is already happening”, she suggests.

Van Tol is aware that multi-year contracts are not easy to come by in the academic world. “But I think it is important for refugee researchers to have a secure base, as they have to learn a new language, adapt to the system and deal with stress.”

Academic freedom
The government must also make money available for that purpose, Van Tol believes. “This isn’t just about humanitarian aid. It is ultimately also an investment in democracy. The danger is that a whole generation of Ukrainian researchers is going to be obliterated, along with their knowledge and discoveries. You could also regard it as a measure to safeguard academic freedom.”