Supporting people affected by the war in Ukraine

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When Russia's invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022, universities across Europe set up crisis teams, providing concrete support to staff and students from Ukraine. However, as by the end of April, the number of people who had been forced to flee Ukraine had risen to over 5 million, additional resources from the EU and member states were pressingly needed for universities to be able to provide help to the best of their abilities.

© University of Göttingen/Peter Heller (2022)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 forced students, academics and employees of Ukrainian universities to flee the country. Others remained, heavily impacted in their capacity to conduct research and studies. Our universities reacted promptly in solidarity with their Ukrainian counterparts, highlighting the need to support Ukrainian students and researchers in our communities, while preparing to welcome displaced students and academics on our campuses. At the same time, we called for the protection of academics and students from Russia under threat for speaking out against the war. Along with other stakeholders, we supported the idea of developing an ambitious EU fellowship scheme to protect researchers at risk.

On our campuses, concrete support was quickly organized, such as psychological and financial support, and flexibility in enrolment conditions for students previously based at Ukrainian universities. In addition, our universities closer to the front line went even further, proactively taking part in humanitarian assistance for Ukrainian refugees through providing transport from the border, and shelter and food on their premises. The Guild supported these efforts by bringing together these many activities on one website where the range of support at all our university campuses became apparent, and which could inspire other universities in the support measures they created.

In Brussels, we engaged with policymakers to highlight areas where support would be needed. We called for the Erasmus+ rules to be eased to enable our universities to mobilize unused funds in support of students from Ukraine, and to allow more flexibility in EU funding programmes to respond to the current crisis. When EU member states expressed their willingness to make Europe a safe haven for scholars and students, we strongly backed this call, reiterating the need to secure new EU funding for a Europe-wide scholarship scheme for researchers at risk in their home countries. In April, the European Commission unveiled a number of exceptional measures to support university staff and students from Ukraine. Nonetheless, we contended that these measures were not enough, emphasizing the need for creativity and scale in the way funds could be used to support staff and students from Ukraine.

With the war not over, we argued for a deeper assessment of its impacts upon our principles of collaboration and partnership. We also strongly supported moves by the European Council and the European Parliament to establish funding for Europe to become a safe haven for researchers in need. With the multiplication of armed conflicts at the borders of the EU in recent years (including Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, and Ukraine), Europe and its universities must now think of sustainable ways to support displaced students and researchers, and reflect on what universities can do to sustain peace.