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A national academy is an organizational body, usually operating with state financial support and approval, that co-ordinates scholarly research activities and standards for academic disciplines, most frequently in the sciences but also the humanities. Typically the country's learned societies in individual disciplines 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 United Kingdom, 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 certain 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.

Different models

In some countries, a single academy covers all disciplines; an example is France. In others, there are several academies, which work together more or less closely; for example, Australia.

Academies by country


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 U.S. National Academies.

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