Universities

UK universities brace for impact of Russia sanctions | The universities

Researchers at British universities are bracing for sanctions affecting science partnerships with Russia, including in climate science and space research, as the government seeks to insulate Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine.

Simon Marginson, a higher education professor at Oxford University, said most academics would support a research boycott with heavy hearts and concerns for their Russian colleagues.

“All the Russian scholars I know oppose the war. The internal situation in Russia will worsen and they will need solidarity, so there is a need to maintain ties,” he said.

Germany announced that all collaboration with Russia in education and research was immediately halted. Its education ministry said Russia had “turned its back on the international community” by invading Ukraine and was committing a “serious violation of international law” without justification.

This week, George Freeman, Britain’s science minister, said he had ordered “a rapid review” of all Russian recipients of UK science and technology funding.

Experts say possible sanctions could include a ban on British academics collaborating with Russian scientists, freezing all joint funding and barring Russian scientists from reading or publishing in international scientific journals.

Professor Colin Riordan, vice-chancellor of Cardiff University, a member of the prestigious Russell Group, said some Cardiff scholars had pulled out of events in Russia on their own. If the government were to tell its university to cut ties with Russia, it would do so because of the “higher stakes”.

But he said the government should be careful of any blanket ruling banning any collaboration with Russian academics. “We have to distinguish between the government and Russian citizens who are in an extremely difficult position,” he said.

Professor Steve West, chairman of the Universities UK group of vice-chancellors, told the Guardian: “I think we have to expect scientific sanctions. The position of universities is always that scientific collaboration and research is a vital global enterprise. However, what is happening is a challenge to democracy, security and stability in the free world. »

Why did Putin's Russia go to war with Ukraine?  – explanatory video
Why did Putin’s Russia go to war with Ukraine? – explanatory video

Academics in Russia, thousands of whom have signed open letters opposing the war, say their international relations are fractured. They say academics across Europe are canceling trips and pulling out of partnerships.

Nearly 4,000 scholars, students and graduates of the prestigious Moscow State University, Russia’s oldest university, have signed a letter in which they “categorically condemn the war that our country has started in Ukraine”.

The letter says, “There is no room for euphemisms or excuses. War is violence, cruelty, death, loss of loved ones, helplessness and fear that cannot be justified by any objective.

On Thursday, another open letter of condemnation was signed by more than 15,000 Russian scholars and students.

A top Russian scientist, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, said some science leaders have been accused of “betraying the motherland” by speaking out against the war. Many were afraid to sign the letters because of a “culture of fear”.

“People in the West don’t fully understand the pain we are feeling,” he said. “It’s like England invading Scotland. Many of us have relatives in Ukraine or were born there.

He said he knew academics in Russia who had written privately to research partners in the UK and other countries, stressing that they did not support the invasion of Ukraine and expressing hope they could find a way to continue working together.

A Russian scientist in St. Petersburg, who said he was chased by riot police this week, tweeted: “I’m so disgusted with the rejection letters, cancellations of invitations, withdrawals of grants against Russian scholars from Western scholars who fight Putinism by attacking those who have suffered from it for decades.”

A Russian climatologist based at a leading Russell Group university in the UK, speaking on condition of anonymity, said his fieldwork, which was based in Russia and involved Russian scientists from different disciplines, seemed likely to stop. A joint expedition he had planned with colleagues in Moscow was canceled. “Russia is such a huge territory and we will lose so much empirical data. This will be a blow to climate science. »

The scientist, who said he was “appalled and devastated” by the invasion of Ukraine, added: “The majority of academics in Russia are not fans of the current regime, and of course the sanctions will hit them hard. whip”.

Paul Nightingale. Photograph: Stuart Robinson/University of Sussex

Paul Nightingale, professor of strategy at the University of Sussex’s science policy research unit, said measures would have to be adopted which “would be brutal and achieve the goal of turning more people against Putin”.

In addition to restrictions on collaboration and publication, Britain and the United States could consider offering five-year work visas to every Russian with a doctorate, he said, to cause a brain drain from the country, although he added that it could damage Russia’s hopes. become a more liberal society in the future.

Quick guide

Three ways to help the Ukrainian people from the UK

To show

Support local charities

Several Ukrainian charities are working on the ground. Sunflower of Peace is a charity that helps paramedics and doctors, and has raised money for supplies including first aid medical tactical backpacks.

United Help Ukraine focuses on providing medical supplies and humanitarian aid, as well as raising awareness of the conflict.

Voices of Children aims to help war-affected children in eastern Ukraine, providing support through art therapy, psychologists, video storytelling and a number of other methods.

The British Red Cross has launched an emergency appeal to help Ukraine. The charity will update its webpage with news about the work being done by its team and how the support will be used to help people.

Support local journalism

English-language news outlets based in the country, such as Kyiv Independent and the New Voice of Ukraine, cover developments on the ground as the conflict unfolds, using local journalists. The Kyiv Independent claims to have been created by journalists to defend editorial independence. This the site on Twitter covers many local journalists in Ukraine.

Write to your local MP

This may be a way to pressure the British government to impose new sanctions on the Russian government and its associates. You can get in touch with your local MP by email or post to their constituency address. Instructions on how to contact us are available on the Parliament.uk website.

Thank you for your opinion.

Nightingale, former director of special projects at the UK government’s Economic and Social Research Council, said he favors sanctions to isolate Putin in the coming weeks, but they must be imposed carefully to avoid killing the possibility of useful academic diplomacy.

“Even at the height of the Cold War, American, European and Russian scientists were working together on important problems,” he said. “These social networks provided really important feedback channels for communication.

“Unfortunately, the people we would hurt the most trying to harm Putin would be our friends.”

Professor Isak Frumin, director of the Institute of Education at the Moscow Higher School of Economics, said global science had been very important to Putin’s regime. Until 2018, the Russian government was pushing universities to play a bigger role in global science by collaborating with researchers abroad and publishing in international journals, he said. “International collaboration in science was considered absolutely necessary and prestigious.”

He added: “The idea that everything could be shattered comes as a big shock to scientists.”

Professor James Wilsdon, director of the Research Institute, based at the University of Sheffield, said the UK government was likely to focus sanctions on areas with strategic implications for Russia’s security, including arctic climate science and space research.

He warned that in the longer term, ministers must be careful not to “stifle the good”. “Scientific ties are a very important element in maintaining the spark of freedom that exists in Russia,” he said.