Our History

In 2002, IIE's trustees committed to making scholar rescue a permanent part of the Institute's work. Dr. Henry Jarecki, Dr. Henry Kaufman, Thomas Russo and George Soros founded the Scholar Rescue Fund. By assuring that threatened scholars find safe haven and are able to continue productive academic work, SRF shines light on those who obstruct the pursuit of knowledge and preserves the intellectual capital of humanity, vital for societal progress.

The idea of rescuing threatened scholars has long been a part of IIE’s vision since its founding in 1919. From the Bolshevik Revolution to the Hungarian Uprising, IIE has demonstrated a commitment to protecting academic freedom. In the 1930s, IIE was instrumental in founding the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars, which rescued more than 330 scholars fleeing persecution in Europe.   

Major activities undertaken throughout the Institute's history include:

The Russian Student Fund, 1921-1949

The Russian Student Fund helped over 600 students and scholars caught in the crossfire of the Bolshevik Revolution and Stalinism to reach safety in Europe and the United States. IIE published a directory identifying over 200 scholars still in Russia and their fields of expertise in order to assist them in finding teaching positions abroad that would remove them from danger. This program continued for decades, helping many to teach freely and beyond the reach of government and security forces of the USSR.

Rescue of Scholars from Fascist Italy, 1922-1924

Mussolini’s rise resulted in the widespread displacement of scholars. The Institute relocated many of these Italian scholars to the United States, where they were afforded grants and several named chairs at leading universities.

The Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German (later Foreign) Scholars, 1933-1941

The Emergency Committee assisted scholars who were barred from teaching, persecuted and threatened with imprisonment by the Nazis. IIE President Stephen Duggan appointed Edward R. Murrow to lead the effort. In the first two years of the Committee's existence, Murrow received requests for help from educators and researchers across Europe. The program expanded to include Austria, Czechoslovakia, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Italy. Over 300 scholars were rescued, some of whom became Nobel Laureates and many whose work and ideas helped shape the post-war world.

Read the 1944 list of the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Scholars »

Rescue of Scholars from the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939

The Spanish Civil War forced scholars into exile on both sides of the conflict. IIE used its network of centers in Latin America to find host campuses for scholars not placed in the United States.

Committee on Awards for Chinese Students, 1942-1945

The Committee assisted over 400 Chinese students stranded in the U.S. during the Second World War who were unable to receive funds to continue their studies. The Institute set up similar programs to assist Turkish and Iranian students and scholars who were unable to return to their countries due to war.

Emergency Program to Aid Hungarian University Students (in cooperation with World University Service), 1956-1958

As a result of the violent suppression of a popular uprising in Hungary, thousands were forced to flee the country. A joint committee was set up between IIE and the World University Service to aid academic refugees. Together they arranged for some 1000 students to receive admission to U.S. universities, many of whom later became leading professors in the sciences and social sciences. In order to help the refugees overcome lack of fluency in English, IIE set up two special centers for intensive training and pre-academic orientation at Bard College and St. Michael's College. Substantial funds to make this possible came from the Ford, Rockefeller and other foundations, as well as the business community.

The South African Education Program (SAEP), 1979-2001

This program provided over one thousand black South Africans with access to education, denied to them under apartheid. The Institute arranged for nearly 200 universities to offer either full or partial scholarships, and additional resources were provided by the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation and 85 other corporations and foundations. Special consideration was given to those seeking to study in the fields of business administration, mathematics, education, science and engineering. Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu's Educational Opportunity Committee managed program selections inside South Africa. In 1983, USAID recognized the importance of this program, and contributed over $29 million. By the time of Nelson Mandela's election, nearly 1700 SAEP fellows had completed their undergraduate, graduate, or short-term training programs, and 95 percent had returned to re-build South Africa. 

Rescue of Burmese Refugees, 1990-1992

In response to a U.S. Congressional mandate, IIE organized an initiative to train Burmese students and scholars who had been living as refugees in Thailand since September 1988. The Institute placed them in U.S. universities for further training.

Asia-Help, 1998-2000

Due to the Asian economic crises in the late 1990s, many Asian students studying in the U.S. suddenly found themselves without funds to continue their education. An initial grant of $7.5 million from the Freeman Foundation provided almost 1400 student loans over the course of two years. Repayments of the loans later enabled IIE to help students and scholars affected by the 2005 Tsunami. Other donors interested in Asia made possible the rescue of hundreds of scholars in the wake of the uprising in Tiananmen Square and those  victims of the Cultural Revolution.

Balkan-Help, 1999-2000

In June 1999, IIE announced a grant from the Open Society Institute creating a new fund for thousands of students studying in the U.S. from Albania, Macedonia and the former Yugoslavia whose families could no longer support them financially or who had no home to which they could return.

Scholar Rescue Fund, 2002-Present

The Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF) formalizes and seeks to endow the Institute's long history of assisting scholars under threat. It has enabled the Institute to issue academic fellowships to more than 515 scholars from 50 countries (over 800 awards, including renewal fellowships), and place these SRF fellows at nearly 300 host partner institutions in 40 different countries.

Rescuing threatened scholars has been a part of IIE’s vision since its founding in 1919.
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