Liverpool University, Sheffield Hallam University, and York University are among 44 UK institutions that have recently signed up to be ‘twinned’ with universities in Ukraine to help them maintain and rebuild in light of the war with Russia.
‘Offering real, practical help’
Liverpool has joined with Sumy State University (SSU) in north-eastern Ukraine, one of the regions bearing the brunt of Russian invasion. One of SSU’s primary buildings was recently destroyed by Russian bombs, and the university was in need of glass to replace 110 windows, a material in short supply in Ukraine.
Liverpool University, however, has connections to glass manufacturers through its own building company – pro-vice chancellor Professor Gavin Brown told the Guardian how after his first meeting with SSU academics ‘he did not expect to come off the call and start ordering new windows.’
Brown added; ‘This is about understanding what these universities need and offering real, practical help.’
Universities like SSU also face the challenge of students and staff fleeing the violence – Brown told the Guardian how ‘many female staff have left and are trying to do what work they can from a distance [and] many male staff are fighting.’
Unlike many western universities, Liverpool has made the decision not to offer scholarships to Ukrainian students; ‘The whole point of what we are doing is to try to support Sumy students to continue to study with their own university,’ Brown said.
‘They will be critical in helping with the rebuilding of Ukraine.’
However, Liverpool University has plans to keep SSU students academically engaged by sharing online materials, and taking in staff to help ‘put lectures and lab experiments online for their colleagues at home.’ Brown highlighted to the Guardian that he hopes the SSU staff and students will eventually be able to return to their studies; ‘it is clearly a fear of the Ukrainian universities that there will be a brain drain,’ he said.
‘Female staff have left Kyiv’
Sheffield Hallam University is twinned with Kyiv National University of Technologies and Design – their key goal is to keep students studying despite many being displaced across the world.
Sheffield Hallam’s director of global development and partnerships, James Richardson, told the Guardian that they recognise that students and staff fleeing violence ‘will have more immediate priorities than resuming the course’ – and, vitally, that the university ‘does not know where most of them are.’
Thanks to overlapping courses, Sheffield Hallam plans to share online lectures recorded during the pandemic – Richardson notes that many Ukrainian students are proficient in English, removing the language barrier, but observed that ‘the biggest challenge is going to be connecting with the students to tell them about it.’
‘Fighting for something important’
Richardson has hopes to collaborate on joint projects between the two universities later this year, but told the Guardian that ‘right now [the KNUTD] aren’t really functioning so it will be hard to offer much other than our support. But we are in this for the long term, planning for next year and a long way beyond.’
He added; ‘This is about giving them hope.’
‘It is a reminder that they are fighting for something important. Universities are a huge part of their social and cultural fabric, as well as their economic future.’