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HE support and responses to the war in Ukraine

Support measures

Not long after the first troops crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border, the international higher education sector has mobilized overnight in supporting Ukrainian students and academics. The first reactions condemned Russia’s aggression on Ukraine and, almost immediately, support measures started being introduced for fleeing students and researchers, as well as for Ukrainian (and in some cases Russian students and researchers), who were already studying or working in Europe, and requiring further financial or psychological assistance.

The Academic Cooperation Association reacted swiftly with a first statement, while its members and the wider sector started announcing unprecedented measures at national levels. Some of them include: the Polish Solidarity with the Ukraine programme, DAAD’s offers of assistance to Ukrainian students and researchers in Germany, information for Ukrainians concerning study in Slovakia, information pages for those wishing to start or continue their studies or research in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Spain and Croatia. Information on available support in Austria and Iceland, and resources and analysis from the Finnish HE sector are also available, while Movetia and swissuniversities are, furthermore, preparing a dedicated scheme in Switzerland with information available shortly. The support will continue to evolve, with many other ACA members currently working on related initiatives.

At the EU level, the European Commission issued further guidance for more flexibility in the use of Erasmus+ funds available for Ukraine, whereby, inter alia, institutions benefiting from ongoing Erasmus+ projects in areas such as inclusion, diversity and integration of refugees may, on a voluntary basis, reallocate part of their funds in support of activities for Ukrainian refugees. The guidelines also foresee some “specific exceptional adaptations of programme rules”, opening up the Erasmus+ KA1 mobility schemes for participants from Ukraine, as well as facilitating the participation of students and staff from Ukraine through International Credit Mobility.

As part of the Horizon Europe programme, the European Research Council has appealed to its 5600 grantees to provide temporary protection to refugee researchers and support staff, such as technicians and lab managers. The EURAXESS platform is hosting a dedicated information page for researchers from Ukraine and the Science4refugees page contains useful information. The MSCA scholarships are expected to have a dedicated strand for researchers at risk, which was proposed already in 2020 but without a strong political backing, until a few weeks ago.

The Central European Exchange Program for University Studies (CEEPUS) has decided, as a temporary measure, to allow CEEPUS member countries to accept applications from students and scholars fleeing from Ukraine (which is not a CEEPUS country). Those member countries which are willing to introduce such measures can now award a limited number of CEEPUS free mover grants using scholarship months from the 2021/2022 academic year. The only criterion of eligibility is to be enrolled or employed at a Ukrainian university and to gain a Letter of Acceptance from the host university.

Grass-root initiatives, such as Science for Ukraine are also providing placement information and peer connections. Multiple other stakeholder organisations and individual higher education institutions across Europe have launched additional earmarked support and statements.

Freezing cooperation with Russia

The European Commission has suspended payments to Russian institutions involved in EU-funded education, research and innovation projects. In addition, the EU will not launch any new cooperation projects with Russian universities, research institutes and companies. In parallel, many European countries have frozen academic and research cooperation with Russia and, following the statement by the Russian Union of Rectors supporting the war in Ukraine, the European University Association – the largest network of European universities – suspended the membership of 14 Russian universities that were signatories of this statement. At this point, it is unclear how cooperation will evolve in the mid-term future, as well as what the wider implications of these unprecedented changes will be for the future of education and science diplomacy. Relevant ideas and possible scenarios on cooperation with global partners will be addressed in detail at our upcoming event Inclusive Excellence – a Global Approach for European Higher Education? on 11 May 2022 (hybrid format, in Brussels and online). The registrations will open on 11 April 2022, so stay tuned.