Analysis: The war in Ukraine severs academic ties between Russia and the West

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Since Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022universities across Europe and the United States have condemned the war and completely cut ties with Russia. In the following questions and answers, Arik Burakovsky, a relationship specialist between the United States and Russia, sheds light on the future of cooperation between Russia and the West in the field of higher education.

What kind of links have existed between Western and Russian universities?

Since the end of the Cold War in 1991, Western and Russian higher education institutions have formed hundreds of partnerships and cooperated in different initiatives. These activities include academic exchanges, curriculum development, joint online courses, and collaborative research projects.

Russia has worked over the past two decades to make its universities more prestigious. The Russian government internationalized and updated its higher education system. This meant breaking away from Soviet traditions and adopt European higher education standardsin particular the passage from the “specialised” diploma at one level in five years to the two-level “bachelor-master” system.

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In their desire for global competitivenessRussian universities built international relocated campuses in all former Soviet countries. They also offered more opportunities for Russian students to study abroad and attracted more international students. the number of foreign students in Russia nearly tripled, from 100,900 in the 2004–05 academic year to 282,900 ten years later.

Russian universities have opened more courses taught in English and established joint and dual degree programs with Western universities in various disciplines. For example, the Moscow School for Social and Economic Sciences offers joint bachelor’s and master’s degrees with the University of Manchester in the UK.

What have these relationships produced?

Western and Russian students got to know each other cultures, languages ​​and societies. Russian and Western scientists have worked together on research projects related to outer space exploration, particle physics, climate change, biodiversity in the arctic and many other areas.

However, as geopolitical tensions grew over time, Russian officials grew concerned about what they believed to be efforts “to educate young people in a pro-Western way, form a protesting electorate and inculcate a hostile ideology. Subsequently, Putin began to choke international academic links by imposing restrictions on them.

Russia has dissolved academic ties with the West through legislation on the so-called “foreign agents” and “unwanted organizations.” The government has stepped up scrutiny of foreign funding and banned dozens of Western think tanks, charities and universities that previously worked in Russia. These prohibited organizations include the Atlantic Councila nonpartisan international affairs think tank in Washington, D.C., and College Barda private liberal arts college in New York State.

In 2021, Russia prohibits all educational activities not government approved. This includes cooperation with foreign universities. Before Russian academics meet foreign academics, they must inform the government.

In my work at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University since 2017, I have managed collaborative teaching, research and scholarly exchanges with universities and think tanks in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Vladivostok . I saw students and experts in both countries gain mutual understanding international business by share diverse perspectives and learn from each other.

These interactions were formally terminated by the university where I work on March 15, 2022, as they are now considered “morally unacceptable.”

A man walks down a street covered in rubble and debris.

Western universities have condemned Russia’s attacks on Ukraine. (Getty Pictures)

Does Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threaten these relations?

Yes. The Ukrainian government has called for a university boycott of Russia. Many colleges have withdrew students from Russia. They also have scientific cooperation interrupted, cut financial ties and increased control of donations from Russia. These movements are all part of a global wave of condemnation against invasion.

While many university leaders have called for caution to go too fast, some American and European universities have already frozen their relationships completely with Russia. Universities in Estonia and Belgium have collectively decided to suspend all ties with Russia.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has completed its cooperation in high-tech education and research with the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Moscow on February 25. The partnership, which began in 2010, was reinforced by a five-year extension and multi-million dollar funding in 2019. However, the program had been mired in controversy since 2018 thanks to the sponsorship of sanctioned oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

Many European governments, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Norway, Latvia and Lithuania, asked their universities to completely cut ties with Russia. The United Kingdom announced on March 27 that it stop funding tens of millions of pounds for all research projects with links to Russia.

What are the reasons given for and against breaking the links?

Proponents say these actions are necessary to adopt a moral attitude against Putin. They also say they’re supposed to fight against corruptiondecrease espionage risksblock Putin’s propaganda machine and prevent technology theft. Chris Philp, Britain’s Minister for Technology and the Digital Economy, says he doesn’t see how “anyone in good conscience can collaborate with Russian universities.

Opponents argue that by excluding the Russian university, the West is alienating Russian students and scholars and set a bad precedent for international academic cooperation in the broad sense. They argue that scientific openness promotes democracy and human rights, helps counter misinformation inside Russia and encourages conflict resolution.

Lawrence Bacow, president of Harvard University, underscores the value of academic diplomacy. He points out that “individuals are not necessarily responsible for the policies of their governments”. On March 9, the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the university suspended relations with Russian universities whose administrations expressed support for the war.

How will these broken ties affect higher education in Russia?

By closing the lines of communication with Russia, Western universities could be help involuntarily Putin’s efforts to isolate Russian students and scholars. Putin wants to convince young people and academics, who tend to be more pro-Western and anti-authoritarian than the rest of the population, that there is no hope for them now that they are alone.

According to Russian researchers they feel increasingly disconnected from the West and discouraged by the future of Russian science. The Russian government said on March 22 that it prohibit its researchers from participating in international conferences.

Are Russian scholars free to condemn the invasion?

A climate of fear reigns over the Russians who oppose the war. A new law punishes the spread of intentionally “false” information on the army with up to 15 years in prison. In his March 16 televised address, Putin vowed to cleanse Russia of pro-Westerns “scoundrels and traitors“, paving the way for a severe national repression.

Russian academics are unable to criticize the invasion without risking dismissals, fines, and jail time. Saint Petersburg State University has expelled 13 students who were arrested during protests against the war. While more than 700 presidents of Russian universities appointed by the government issued a statement of support for the “special military operation” in Ukraine, nearly 8,000 Russian academics expressed their opposition to the war in an open letter condemning the hostilities.

Hundreds of thousands of members of The Russian liberal intelligentsia and the political opposition fled the country following the war. They fear political persecution and conscription. Like free speech square is closing fastsome overseas universities have opened temporary teaching and research positions for Russian scholars seeking refuge.

This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.


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