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Swedish higher education institutions cease collaborations with Russia and Belarus

Swedish universities are ending their collaborations with Russia and Belarus. “We regard it as incredibly important to show that we do not want any cooperation with Russian state universities,” says Astrid Söderbergh Widding, Vice-chancellor of Stockholm University.

Per-Olof Eliasson
Universitetsläraren has asked a number of higher education institutions about Russian and Belarusian collaborations, and most are following the government's recommendation to suspend or review them.

“The Swedish Government calls for immediate cessation of contacts and cooperation with state institutions in Russia and Belarus and for no new contacts or commitments to be initiated”, said Anna Ekström, the Minister for Education, at a press briefing on 2 March after Russia had attacked Ukraine.

Anna Ekström

She stated that there are individual contacts with researchers in Russia and in Belarus in many educational and research collaborations. “Many academics in Russia and Belarus also openly criticize the actions of the Russian state leadership at the risk of their own lives. It is therefore important that individual Russian and Belarusian researchers are not automatically equated with state institutions.”

”Do not want any cooperation”
Universitetsläraren has asked a number of universities about collaborations with Russia, and it seems that they are heeding the government’s call. The collaborations do not seem to be numerous or large, but those that do exist are to be ended immediately and contacts with individual researchers are being reviewed.
“I have imposed a moratorium on our agreements on student exchange with Russia. We regard it as incredibly important to show that we do not want any cooperation with Russian state universities,” says Stockholm University Vice-chancellor Astrid Söderbergh Widding.

The exchange agreements currently only apply to a small number of students and the university is not sending back Russian students who are already here. Additionally, the university is participating in seven ongoing EU research programmes in which there is Russian participation.
“The EU has frozen all programmes with Russia. But some of these are giant projects that we must try to keep going despite Russia no longer being involved.”

Astrid Söderbergh Widding

Willing to take in academics who have escaped
Like many other universities, SU is ready to receive Ukrainian academics and students who have fled the country and offer them opportunities to study and work.
“The most important thing, of course, is the incredible suffering of the Ukrainian people. At the same time, as a university we have a duty to stand up for freedom of expression and democracy and for academic freedom,” says Söderbergh Widding.

She emphasises that at department level there are many who are getting involved and looking for ways to help. “You feel completely powerless, but we are trying to do everything we can. Both in Sweden and in Europe, people in higher education are discussing what we can do and how we can coordinate support for our colleagues. This of course applies not only to Ukrainians, but also to opposition Russians who suffer from reprisals and find it difficult to work in Russia.”

LTU reviewing collaborations
Luleå University of Technology is conducting an inventory of its ongoing collaborations.
“We had already decided that we will not begin any new collaborations, we will not travel to Russia and we will not receive visits,” says Veronika Sundström, University Director at Luleå University of Technology. “It is a clear signal on our part.”

So far, LTU has not identified any major collaborations with Russia or Belarus.
“It’s more at the individual researcher level that there are research contacts and exchanges. We will need to discuss how to proceed at all levels.”

Veronika Sundström
Veronika Sundström.

Support for doctoral candidates from the countries involved
The university does not currently have any students from the countries involved, nor any of its own students there.
“However, we have doctoral candidates here from those countries, and it is very important to distinguish between Russia’s aggression and individual Russians,” says Sundström.
“They are in many cases as appalled as we are about what is happening. We have received indications that they feel singled out and anxious. We refer doctoral candidates both to their department management and to the occupational health service for support. This is what war does to people. It creates conflicts on many different levels. It is deeply tragic.”

LU stops research collaborations
Lund University has also conducted an inventory of its collaborations.
“I am very happy that Anna Ekström makes a distinction between institutions and individuals,” says Vice-chancellor Erik Renström. “Many assessments need to be made and this is a work in progress.”

The university is terminating agreements on research collaboration with 23 Russian institutions and three in Belarus. Four student exchange agreements are also being terminated.
“I think it’s important to highlight the complexity. We want to have international cooperation on matters that are important in the long run, for example on climate issues. We need to ensure that these can continue in a responsible and positive way.”

Few students, doctoral candidates and researchers from Lund University are in the countries involved.
“On the other hand, we have significantly more people from those countries here. There are students and doctoral candidates, researchers, colleagues at all levels. They’re from Ukraine, from Russia and some from Belarus. We shouldn’t forget that many Russians and Belarusians are suffering enormously and feeling alienated from their own countries. And above all from its leadership.”

Erik Renström
Erik Renström.

Is there a danger that people will direct their anger about the war against them?
“Yes, we are of course aware of that and are doing everything we can to prevent it. My impression is still that there is a great mutual understanding that this is a difficult situation, so I don’t think that things will escalate. But we are being vigilant.”

”We support them in every way”
Erik Renström says that it is an exceedingly difficult situation for the Ukrainian universities and that they are appealing for help.
“We are supporting them in every way we can, including working through Scholars at Risk, SAR. We are also looking at opening study places and, if so, in what form. There is also an international initiative for online training for people who are still in Ukraine. The university is concentrating on what we can do within the framework of education and research, and intensive work is underway to put this in place. In terms of humanitarian support, many different initiatives are underway now where the university is looking at how we can support or act.”

LiU also pausing cooperation with Ukraine
Linköping University began early, as soon as the war broke out, to investigate its contacts with Russia and Ukraine.
“We have worked with Ukraine and Belarus on democracy issues, both to increase democracy in academia and in civil society,” says Per-Olof Brehmer, Deputy Vice-chancellor at Linköping University.
“With that background, we immediately began to do an inventory of what collaborations we had with Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.”

“We also have three projects with a number of Russian universities to increase internationally competitive education funded by the EU. We have been in touch with the European Commission about pausing those collaborations. We have also decided to suspend our projects with Ukraine. The conditions to be able to conduct collaborations with Ukrainian universities don’t exist as things are right now.”

Per-Olof Brehmer
Per-Olof Brehmer

Linköping University has no exchange programmes with any of the three countries involved, but a small number of master’s students from Ukraine in Linköping.

Per-Olof Brehmer adds that Swedish higher education institutions are also working through the European Universities Association, EUA, to cease collaborations with Russia and Belarus and also how to pause collaborations with Ukraine in order to be properly prepared to resume them.
“We must assume that there will be a different situation than that which exists now. We have to believe that Russia will cease its aggression against Ukraine and that we can return to a situation with better conditions for cooperation.”

Per-Olof Eliasson

Universitetsläraren conforms strictly to journalistic principles and follows the media industry’s rules on publication and professional ethics. The magazine is free and independent of its owner, SULF – the Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers.
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