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 organisational 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 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. In many states they are organized in Academies of Science. 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 (members)
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, academies derive some financial support from some or all of these other organisations but this support needs to be given in a manner that does not compromise the academy's independence.
The Invisible College was a precursor to the Royal Society of London. In 1660, the informal committee of 12 philosophers formed the College for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematical Experimental Learning.
The British Academy was first proposed in 1899 as the British Academy for the Promotion of Historical, Philosophical and Philological Studies. The name was subsequently shortened and incorporated in 1901, receiving Royal Charter from King Edward VII in 1902.
The Fellowship of Engineering was conceived in the late 1960s under Harold Wilson, and subsequently established in 1976. It was granted Royal Charter in 1983 and renamed the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1992.
Within most countries, the unqualified phrase "National Academy" will normally refer to that country's academy. For example, within the United States, the plural phrase "National Academies" is widely understood to refer to the U.S. National Academies.