“I feel like our people are breathing again. They get hope. It is because of your university that they will start laughing again,” he said Tetyana Kaganovská, the president of Karazin Kharkiv National University, spoke a few months ago to a colleague from their British twin, the University of York. Those are the words that have stayed with me ever since.
After the invasion of Ukraine, the higher education sector in the UK stepped up to support its counterparts in the country. The most significant development in this area was the twinning initiative.
Twinning, developed by Cormack Consultancy Group and Universities UK International, enables UK universities to support their Ukrainian counterparts through short-term assistance and long-term strategic activity through inter-institutional collaboration.
Today marks one year of an initiative in which the University of Sheffield helped rebuild air raid shelters at their twin campus, Kyiv Polytechnic’s Igor Sikorsky campus, enabling a return to face-to-face teaching; the University of Glasgow fully funds 100 students from the National Academy of Kyiv and Mound Academy to study with them, enabling these students to continue their education; and the University of Liverpool provide an extensive database of online learning materials through a purpose-built platform for over 100 academics at their twin, Sumy State University, to continue their teaching.
The impact on transforming Ukrainian lives is evident – from enabling efforts to preserve vital rail networks to training the next generation of Ukrainian psychologists to repair the country’s mental scars – UK universities have played a key role in helping Ukraine.
“The #TwinForHope campaign was designed to open a window into extraordinary things”
But the work of British universities had a different impact; the impact on our own reputation as an industry, for example? As Rachel Sandison, Deputy Director (External Engagement) at the University of Glasgow, said recently, perhaps the best way to maintain and improve our reputation is to be true to who we are, understand our mission and purpose and really live it. .
The #TwinForHope campaign was designed to open a window into the extraordinary things happening right at the universities involved in this initiative. When considering the impact of an annual partnership, there are now more than 100 UK-Ukraine university partnerships, most recently funded by a £5m investment from Research England.
With all the criticism leveled at the universities, it would be a great shame if no one saw how wonderful the way they approached cooperation with Ukrainian colleagues. Indeed, there has perhaps never been a better time to openly live out our purpose and proactively tell positive and powerful stories about how UK universities can best serve society.
And we shouldn’t limit this narrative to schemes like twinning – there are many stories of how universities are changing the world for the better; stories we can come together as a sector to talk about. From universities developing cures for cancer and treatments for many other diseases, as global health becomes a major challenge for governments around the world; to develop technologies that will enable us to move towards a more sustainable future in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Whether it’s scientists at the University of Manchester making breakthroughs in the treatment of breast cancer, Cardiff University supporting research to stop the outbreak of dementia, or academics at the University of Bath using land to produce green energy – we need to find a way to build powerful stories together about the positive impact of universities.
I once heard Vivienne Stern, CEO of University UK, quote from the founding statement of the University of Aberdeen: “…to establish a university open to all and committed to the pursuit of truth in the service of others.” Through higher education, we have the power to change lives.
Let us remember our true purpose, focus on championing the work we do for a living, let us tell the wider world what we already know – that we truly are the solution to today’s global challenges.
About the author: Andy Howells is Deputy Director of External Relations at Universities UK International and has worked in senior marketing, communications and higher education leadership roles for over ten years and has won numerous awards for his campaigning.