Utkarsh Singh, a 23-year-old Indian citizen, speaks from a hostel in western Ukraine. It is in the same region as a year ago when Russian troops invaded the country in an invasion that killed thousands and displaced millions.
Singh was one of those displaced, fleeing the country along with Ukrainians and other foreign students who, like him, attended one of the country’s 240 universities open to foreigners.
In the past year, as Ukrainians have suffered devastating losses, the geopolitical tensions of the conflict have played out throughout the international education world. Globally, universities simultaneously admitted new students and severed ties with Russian institutions. Russia has stepped up its international student recruitment as foreign students already in the country faced sanctions.
Although much has changed, after losing his battle to continue his education outside of Ukraine, Singh is back where he started.
A year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, The PIE looks at how the international education sector has responded to the war and its far-reaching consequences for students and academics.
Ukrainian students and academics
As Ukrainians fled their homes after the invasion, countries opened their borders to welcome them. An estimated 83% of Ukrainians aged 18–24 had completed a higher education before the war, and students began looking for ways to continue their studies.
The European Union of Students has begun coordinating with the Ukrainian Union and student groups in neighboring countries to respond.
“On a national and local level [they] he helped with the bulk of the welcome and also with the negotiations with governments for special funds,” said Matteo Vespa, ESU president.
The organization then launched a student hotline as well as an online repository listing all the support available from different countries for students leaving Ukraine. Student groups later worked to increase funding for the Erasmus program for Ukrainians.
Meanwhile, universities quickly opened their doors to both students and academics. In 2022 surveyThe European Association of Universities found that out of 24 respondents, 21 European countries have introduced programs to host students and academics, including subsidizing accommodation and offering language courses. In Germany, “extensive advice” was provided. refugee students, reports the German Rectors’ Conference.
In the UK, Ukrainian refugees have been granted domestic fee status, which allows them to study at British universities without having to pay international tuition fees.
Institutions in North America have also launched scholarship programs and subsidized programs for Ukrainian refugees, with Canada’s University of Alberta completely waiving tuition fees for Ukrainian international students. There have also been efforts to reach out to Ukrainian academics with the support of Scholars at Risk displaced academics work in American institutions.
In recent months, however, there have been signs that goodwill towards Ukrainians is declining in some places. In Canada, pro-Russian graffiti was found on some campuses, along with reports of verbal harassment from Ukrainian students.
Since September, some Ukrainian students have also been prevented from leaving the country due to border restrictions. Some were subsequently kicked out of European universities after failing to register.
In Ukraine, education continues despite the destruction of the war. Over 3000 institutions were damaged by shelling and Kharkiv University was hit by Russian bombs. However, many universities continue to provide courses, with some students attending remotely.
More than 100 UK universities have now signed up to the twinning scheme to support these institutions, from sending ambulances to designing underground shelters.
Rachel Sandison, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for External Relations at the University of Glasgow, which is a partner of three Ukrainian universities, he told The PIE in February that the program was “totally transformative” for all partners.
“This is not something we do today. That’s something we’re doing for tomorrow and beyond,” Sandison said.
With so many young people leaving the country, the risk of brain drain is high. The Ukrainian Global University has now been established with government support to create scholarships for students committed to returning to Ukraine after their studies to rebuild the country. “Young people and a strong academic community are crucial to rebuilding countries after war,” the Coimbra Group warned after the initial invasion.
International students in Ukraine
There were an estimated 76,000 foreign students in Ukraine at the time of the invasion, attracted to the country by the offer of relatively cheap courses taught in English. Medical studies have been particularly popular with students from South Asia and Africa, where university capacity is often low compared to the youth ratio.
These foreign students began to evacuate the country in February 2022, but leaving the country proved difficult. Some experienced racism at the border and were denied access to transport. There was also a group of African students trapped in the Russian-occupied city of Kherson and began pleading for help on social networks.
Within 24 hours, we went from feeling neighborly with our Ukrainian counterparts to being treated like others. Black and brown people were refused to board buses and trains to leave and were told “no foreigners” and “only Ukrainians” (7).
— Koko (@korrinesky) February 14, 2023
Since then, many students have sought to continue their studies, especially those enrolled in medical courses. While the governments of Ireland and Morocco have announced they will integrate students studying in Ukraine back into their country’s institutions, governments in countries such as India, home to a much larger affected cohort, have said they do not have the capacity to let medical help. students continue their studies there.
“They were basically excluded from education”
“Even if they had a safe country to go back to, they were basically excluded from education,” Vespa said.
The Indian government also said that the qualifications of distance learning medical students from Ukrainian institutions would not be recognized as they would lack clinical experience. For Singh, after five years of study, the news that he would not be able to practice medicine in India was devastating. Out of sheer desperation, he returned to Ukraine in October 2022, flew to Poland and traveled overland to Ukraine.
Five days after he arrived, Ternopil, the city in which he lived, was attacked.
“After that, there are a lot of problems with electricity because Russia has targeted all the infrastructure,” he said, adding that air raid sirens went off four or five times a day for the next few months.
Singh and his peers were told to be on alert for an attack from Russia this week, given the symbolism of the date. “If there is a massive attack on Ukraine on February 24, then eventually we will have to run again,” he said. “This time the Indian government will not evacuate us because we came here alone.
International students in Russia
The lives of the estimated 315,000 international students in Russia also changed overnight when the invasion took place. Students on short-term exchanges were evacuated, some faced convoluted paths at home, while quickly imposed international sanctions meant that students who remained in the country could no longer receive bank transfers from their families.
Challenges continue for international students in Russia. Ongoing financial sanctions make international payments difficult, while the cost of living has risen significantly. One Vietnamese student told The PIE in December that her friends relied on a cryptocurrency exchange to access their money. Flights are also limited, making travel to and from the country challenging.
Despite this, Russia has stepped up recruitment, increased state-funded places for foreign students, renewed efforts to recruit from Africa and plans exchanges with Iran.
[ANNOUNCEMENT] We are pleased to announce that the Government of the Russian Federation will award a number of scholarships to Malaysian candidates to study in Russia as part of its initiative to raise a generation of brilliant and qualified individuals, pic.twitter.com/bbiFz850JV
— Kementerian Pendidikan Tinggi (@MOHEOfficial) February 4, 2023
“Russia continues to partially subsidize the education of most foreign students in order to form pro-Russian elites abroad,” Igor Chirikov, senior research fellow at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley, told The PIE last week. year.
“About one third of foreign students in Russia are fully funded by the state. Tuition-free education could be quite attractive to some students, especially from developing countries.”
But Russia’s treatment of international students continues to stir controversy. One university reportedly offered foreign students up to $5,000 to join the army, while a Zambian student in prison for drug offenses was offered amnesty in exchange for joining the Russian army. He subsequently died in battle in Ukraine.
“I wouldn’t say it’s normal, people just get used to it”
“I wouldn’t say it’s normal, people just got used to it,” said a Vietnamese student about life in wartime Russia.
Russian students, academics, institutions
When the war began, debate erupted about cutting ties with Russian universities as many institutions began freezing research partnerships and exchanges, fueled by the Russian Rectors’ Union publicly supporting the war in early March. In April, both Russia and Belarus were suspended from the Bologna Process, a European network linking universities.
Kateryna Suprun, Ukraine’s national representative in the Bologna process, said at the time that the process was supposed to promote trust between countries. “This trust has been lost for Russia and Belarus after all the crimes against humanity they are committing in Ukraine. Many thanks to all the members of the Bologna Process who found the courage to resist evil,” she said.
Russian universities have also experienced a brain drain, with students and teachers leaving the country “to avoid conscription or to protest against the invasion of Ukraine,” Chirikov said.
Faced with international isolation, Russians looking to study abroad have also begun to consider less traditional destinations such as Turkey and Dubai. One education agent said in August that demand from Russian students remained “stable” but that travel to major study destinations was complicated and expensive. Efforts to study abroad were further hampered institutions breaking ties with Russian agents, with some universities publicly blaming it on payment complications.
Russian students who have already been abroad feared abuse and had difficulty accessing their funds. There were also controversial calls by politicians in the UK and US to expel Russian students, which were ultimately rejected.
Long term impact
While still ongoing, responses to the Russian invasion of Ukraine are now seen as a model for how the education community should act in the wake of an international crisis. It’s over requests for students from other war-torn countries to be treated with the same hospitality as some Ukrainian refugees, and after the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, some looked to Ukraine’s response for examples of how the world can help.
“We have enough experience that if another crisis like this were to happen, we would know how to mobilize, especially the first steps – which are often really key to steer the course and be able to help,” Vespa said.
But the war rages on and for those living in Ukraine, further support is vital. “You can’t predict where the missile will land,” Singh said.