The prime criterion for election to the Fellowship of the Academy is academic distinction as reflected in scholarly research activity and publication. Only one or two scholars a year are elected in most fields, even though there may be several hundred scholars active in the field in question. The electoral process is therefore exacting and rigorous.
The Fellowship of the Academy is organised into eighteen subject Sections, and each Fellow belongs primarily to one (cross-membership of a second Section is also possible). Candidates for election are initially proposed in one of the following ways:
- by Section Standing Committees, which survey annually the field of potential candidates in their areas of research, monitor the balance of subject, gender, age and institution within the Section, and seek to extend their subject coverage whenever the intrinsic nature and the intellectual quality of the best work undertaken in a new field appear to justify an enlargement of the scope of the Section; they also sift the names put forward by individual Fellows;
- by Fellows, setting out the principal claims to election and main published works;
- by the Fellowship and Structures Committee, which exists to consider the claims to election of scholars whose work does not sufficiently fall within the purview of any one Section;
- by Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities in the UK and by the heads of related research organisations such as national museums, galleries, libraries and archives, who are invited from time to time to bring names to the attention of the Academy.
Fellows are required at all stages to be scrupulous in declaring any institutional interest or any personal connection with a candidate under consideration, and to respect the confidentiality of the process until after the AGM in July.
Once a formal Proposal Form has been completed, candidates are invited to consent to their name being considered, and to let the Academy have a summary curriculum vitae for circulation and a full CV for reference.
Sections then meet in September to agree the names to be put to a secret ballot within each Section. Sections agree the names of assessors. The case for election and the particular distinction of each candidate is sent to assessors. The reports of assessors, scholars of international standing in the candidate’s field, supply an independent judgment to supplement and inform the deliberations of the Section.
A secret ballot is then conducted within each Section. Sections meet in March to study the ballot results and to make recommendations to the humanities and social science Groups (consisting of representatives of Sections), which are responsible for ensuring consistency across Sections. The Groups' and the Fellowship and Structures Committee's recommendations are considered and discussed by the Academy’s Council in June, which agrees a list of names to be nominated for election to the Annual General Meeting of Fellows in July.