National academy

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A national academy is a body, usually operating with state financial support and approval, that co-ordinates the activities of research in (nearly always) the sciences and (sometimes) other disciplines. Typically the country's learned societies in individual disciplies will liaise with or be co-ordinated by the national academy. National academies play an important organizational role in academic exchanges and collaborations between countries.

The extent of official recognition of national academies varies between countries. In some cases they are explicitly or de facto an arm of government; in others, as in the U.K., they are voluntary, non-profit bodies with which government has agreed to negotiate, and which may receive government financial support while retaining substantial independence. In the countries of the former Soviet Union, and in the People's Republic of China, the national academies have considerable power over policy and personnel in their areas. There is however a growing consensus among international federations of learned academies that bona fide national (or learned) academies need to adhere to cerain criteria:

  • The fellowship is elected, on the basis of excellence, by existing fellows
  • The number of fellows is restricted either to a total number or to a rate of accretion
  • The governance of the academy is democratic and “bottom up”. The fellowship is the ultimate source of the academy’s authority
  • The academy is independent of government, industry and professional associations. Most, if not all, all academies derive some financial support from some or all of these other organizations but this support needs to be given in a manner that does not compromise the academy’s independence.


In some countries, a single academy covers all disciplines; an example is the Institut de France in France, which groups five academies, including the Académie française. In others, there are several academies, which work together more or less closely; for example, Australia has separate academies for the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. In the U.K., the Royal Society is recognised as the national academy for the sciences, the British Academy for the social sciences and the humanities, and the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Academy of Medical Sciences for their areas. In the United States, there are also four National Academies.

Within most countries, the unqualified phrase "National Academy" will normally refer to that country's academy. Within the United States, the plural phrase "National Academies" is widely understood to refer to the US National Academies.

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