An urgent network for Ukrainian scholars

On May 16, speaking to the Association of American Universities, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky explained what it means to be an agent. “It’s the age of choice,” he said, “Who are you…Are you a doer or just an observer? Are you just experiencing life or trying to change something? Everyone has choices in the face of hate. Faced with a getaway car as the armies of the Russian Federation attacked Ukraine, Zelensky himself chose to be an agent, to stay and fight for his people.

Zelensky’s challenge to American university leaders was to also be agents at this time, doing everything in their power to help Ukrainian higher education. There are brave fights going on in Ukraine, but there has also been a quieter fight to support education. Both battles testify to extraordinary faith among Ukrainians in the country’s future.

One of the organizations highlighted at the AAU meeting, the Ukrainian Global University, a new consortium of universities established by Ukrainian scholars at the Kyiv School of Economics, a private university focused on social sciences, offers a uniquely Ukrainian solution.

Last March, Kent Lewis, an alumnus of the University of Kansas, where I work, put me and other colleagues in touch with the Ukrainian scholars at the head of UGU. Since the start of the war, KSE scholars have advised the Ukrainian government on a number of topics, including sanctions, Western partner relief programs, donations, and other issues. They also raise a lot of funds and have raised over $12 million, mostly in humanitarian aid for medical tool kits and bulletproof vests.

We caught up with one of UGU’s leaders, Tymofii Brik from the Kyiv School of Economics, who introduced himself as a faculty member teaching sociology before the war, and the university’s new vice-president in times of war for international affairs. He set ambitious goals for a mutually beneficial intellectual partnership.

When we spoke with Brik on Zoom, he was locked in his bathroom due to Russian airstrikes. Knowing that the other party may be under attack focuses the mind on a Zoom call. Communicating with Ukrainians in wartime offers a useful perspective: when someone says they’re dealing with pressing matters, there’s a good chance something really emergent will happen – not a deadline. urgent item. It is amazing to see Ukrainians fighting for their education system as the Russian army attacks Ukrainian identity by targeting many Ukrainian libraries and cultural sites. It awakens a kind of essential faith in education; if your university were to be closed, would you zoom in on the airstrikes?

Brik presented a menu of collaboration options, ranging from free access for Ukrainian students to online courses, research partnerships, more complicated options for admitting students, hosting visiting researchers or support. to Ukrainians abroad. He told us that KSE had received proposals from Western universities offering placements for academics or individual students. The creation of the UGU was a response to the logistical challenges of this piecemeal approach. UGU creates a network of universities, both abroad and in Ukraine, with a two-way database linking Ukrainian institutions, opportunities and students and scholars. Currently, 51 universities around the world are involved. So far they have provided 785 opportunities.

AAlthough UGU is not the only way for Western universities to help Ukrainian higher education, what is unique about this initiative, in an American university where researchers in Ukrainian studies are rare, is that it centers Ukrainian voices and their perspectives. Ukraine is under attack because of an illegal and misguided Russian colonial project that erases the very notion of Ukraine. In this context, even while providing aid, Western allies must work against colonial patterns by connecting to distinctive Ukrainian perspectives

Many Ukrainians understand that to rebuild, the country will need the best and the brightest. Besides the immediate need to bring academics to safety, there are real concerns about the brain drain. Ukraine’s education aid programs resulting from partnerships with KSE and UGU reflect this complex set of priorities.

For this reason, a number of universities, including my own university and NYU, have created time-limited visiting scholar opportunities, in the hope that Ukrainian scholars hosted by them will eventually seek to return. Similarly, concrete degrees (accelerated degrees) are preferable to refugee student status.

Remote investment in Ukrainian academia is also very important. Many Ukrainians do not wish to leave, and some cannot, due to martial law. Distance learning scholarships are an option, as are Northwestern’s recently instituted short-term virtual visits for Ukrainian scholars, which provide much-needed financial support for scholars who choose to stay.

And for Ukrainian students who are temporarily abroad, the Kyiv School of Economics can issue Ukrainian degrees. This too is particularly important to facilitate reintegration in Ukraine with the appropriate professional references. A Ukrainian colleague visiting my university told me, when I suggested that we look for ways for her to stay in the United States until the end of the war, that she refused to be a refugee .

This consortium of universities is founded on the most radical conceptualization of global education – that in times of crisis, and perhaps even outside of a crisis, all universities, regardless of their physical location, can act cooperatively as one, each helping in some way to mitigate intellectual loss and provide shelter. And UGU hopes its mission will extend beyond the current war in Ukraine. Perhaps the plan they created can be transferred to other global conflict and humanitarian crisis situations.

Ukrainian academics don’t have much choice right now, but they’ve worked hard to regain some autonomy. American academics have many more choices; it is heartening to see many universities embracing the possibility of Ukrainian Global University, with all its unlikely faith. I hope to see this network expand further in the months to come.

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