As the war in Ukraine nears one month, Russia’s invasion of the country has been widely criticised by the higher education sector across the world. Australian universities and higher ed peak bodies have come out in support of Ukraine, as the war rages on in the eastern European country.
“Our hearts and minds are with Ukrainians as they face these unfathomable and tragic circumstances. We hope for a prompt resolution of the conflict and restoration of peace for Ukraine,” said Simon Finn, CEO Independent Higher Education Australia.
“Education will be critical to ensuring the future livelihoods of Ukrainians”
IHEA members “stand ready” to support fleeing Ukrainians with education scholarships, he continued.
“Education will be critical to ensuring the future livelihoods of Ukrainians, and to assist in rebuilding their towns and cities,” Finn emphasised.
Australia’s leading research-intensive university members of Group of Eight – which are “committed to research, education and global engagement with the goal of creating a better world” – also condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine, according to chief executive Vicki Thomson.
“The Go8 is offering counselling and other assistance to international students and faculty affected by the crisis. We have acted quickly to identify and contact individual students and researchers from the Ukraine and Russia, as well as relevant student clubs and societies.
“Our universities are offering access to advisors, counselling services and peer support, as well as establishing ‘chat’ channels for international students currently studying offshore,” she noted.
Australian universities have come out with statements in support of Ukrainian students and academics, with the Australian National University taking arguably the strongest stance of all, by indefinitely suspending all ties with Russian institutions.
In a statement, the country’s leading university said that the decision to decouple with the Russian academic sector was not “one taken lightly”.
While it “recognise[s] the significance of scientific and cultural exchange for international peace, cooperation and academic freedom”, ANU iterated that “cutting ties with Russia now is the right thing to do” in the current circumstances.
“The immediate material effects of our stance will be small. We do not inflict harm, merely disappointment, inconvenience and, we hope, a degree of shame. But we will add to the global pressure on the Russian people to consider individual and collective responsibility for what is happening in their name,” the ANU said.
“At ANU, we are confident that the right side of history is to stand with the people of Ukraine… and encourage institutions of all types across Australia to join us.”
However, some experts have opined that contrary to the university’s stance, keeping the channels of dialogue and collaboration open with Russian counterparts is key to maintaining insight into the country and ensuring that Russian academic and research sector does not become completely cut-off.
Russia has as such been increasing its collaboration with Chinese institutions and the decoupling could hurt both ways, others have warned.
In an open letter, a group of academics stated that the university’s “policy primarily affects the research and educational institutions in Russia, and ultimately Russian scholars who may be the last remaining voice of reason in the country”.
“Suspending ongoing activities with Russian research institutions will have a devastating effect on those academics in Russia who strive for international collaboration and thus slow down the country’s descent into the dark ages,” they stressed.
“The policy of alienating Russian researchers at large will only help the Russian state’s propaganda”
“The policy of alienating Russian researchers at large will only help the Russian state’s propaganda of aggression and isolation. This policy will likely be interpreted as yet another case of western Russophobia.”
It will also “adversely affect” ANU academics and students involved in Russian studies and collaborations, they warned.
The University of Western Sydney has also called off all ties with academic institutions in Russia, and Deakin University said on March 8 that it “will not enter into any new agreements or contracts” with Russian institutions. The university in Victoria will “also not accept any new students from Russia”.
Deakin noted, however, that it “upholds the principles of academic freedom, and as such, cannot mandate that [its] staff withdraw from all academic and professional collaboration with Russian institutions”.
The PIE has previously reported on divergent views in relation to cutting ties with Russian institutions among universities across Europe.
In Australia, the University of Sydney said its “thoughts are with” its Ukrainian community, those with a Ukrainian background, who have family and friends in the region, as well as its community with Russian citizenship or ties to the Russian community “who deplore this act of violence against their Ukrainian neighbours”.
Like Go8, the University of Sydney has “reached out directly to students of Ukrainian citizenship to offer additional support including special consideration, peer support and counselling”.
Deputy vice-chancellor (International) of University of Melbourne Michael Wesley also noted colleagues and students had been offered support.
Wesley urged “everyone to treat all members of the university community with kindness and respect, especially those people who have family or loved ones living in harm’s way in the region”.
“This is just one small thing we can do as an educational institution”
“This is just one small thing we can do as an educational institution to offer Ukrainian humanitarian entrants some tuition and financial support in the aftermath of the hardship and loss they are experiencing,” said CDU vice-chancellor, Scott Bowman.
“This is about showing support in a distressing time for Ukrainians, by creating more opportunities for these students to reach their full potential on their educational journey.”