UK universities help Ukraine ‘twins’ through and beyond war

A growing number of universities in the United Kingdom are pledging to help rebuild campuses damaged or destroyed once the fighting stops in the Russian war against Ukraine while providing short-term ‘virtual support’ by recognising credits so that English-speaking Ukrainian students can complete their degrees, via online courses from UK universities, through twinning agreements.

So far, 71 universities have confirmed twinning partnerships with Ukrainian universities under an initiative coordinated by the Cormack Consultancy Group and Universities UK International (UUKi).

Most of the institutions signing up are based in the United Kingdom, but several in North America have also joined the scheme.

Five years of support

Universities will be expected to partner directly with their Ukrainian counterparts for a minimum of five years.

As well as pledging to help physically rebuild damaged and destroyed campuses once the war ends and letting English-speaking Ukrainian students complete their degrees online, the partnerships will provide a wide range of practical assistance.

This includes facilitating the sharing of academic resources such as libraries and technical equipment, allowing Ukrainian teaching and research to continue in UK laboratories and classrooms in cases where facilities have been destroyed or damaged in Ukraine, and preserving Ukrainian archives in UK institutions and facilitating more cultural and language exchange opportunities.

It also involves sharing mental health support – particularly for Ukrainian staff and students suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and allowing Ukrainian students to ‘catch-up’ the learning they miss at summer schools hosted in UK institutions.

Preventing brain drain

Valentina Chervenkova, policy officer (Europe) at Universities UK International, told University World News the scheme is designed to “prevent brain drain and ensure Ukraine’suniversities not only survive but emerge stronger from the war, allowing them to play a critical role in post-war reconstruction”.

“The focus of the initiative from our perspective is to lay the foundations of strong partnerships between the UK and Ukrainian universities to effectively manage the crisis at the moment and rebuild in a sustainable manner after the war ends,” she said.

“At the moment, practical support includes enabling Ukrainian academics to be based at UK universities to continue their research and teaching to Ukrainian students via online courses.”

Virtual hosting of students from Ukraine at UK institutions will allow them to continue their studying by taking online modules with credits that their home institutions will recognise, she said.

“In the future, the relationships can develop to include in-country assistance, too, but this will depend on the most immediate needs of the Ukrainian sector after the war comes to an end and the resources available.”

Chervenkova said the Cormack Group, a consultancy supporting British universities with transnational education, had a long-standing presence in Ukraine and contacts with Ukrainian universities.

“They reached out to us at the beginning of the occupation and we and some of the UUKi members met with Ukrainian university representatives to find out how the UK HE sector can support them.”

A signing ceremony for 24 new partnerships between the UK and Ukraine took place on Ukrainian Constitution Day – 28 June 2022 – with the UK government pledging £190,000 (US$227,000) in financial assistance to support the twinning initiative.

Liverpool-Sumy State link-up

Liverpool’s ‘twinning’ with Sumy State University is one of the most comprehensive UK-Ukraine partnerships.

As well as summer schools, both face-to-face and online, Liverpool academics are providing support around campus repair and redevelopment, access to academic materials and online assets and courses, as well as having their academics join the editorial boards of Sumy State journals, said Charles Cormack, chairman of the Cormack Consultancy Group.

Among those already benefiting is Kateryna Zhuk, a sixth-year student of the Medical Institute at Ukraine’s Sumy State University, who has been attending a summer school at the University of Liverpool.

She enjoyed mixing with other students from around the world and found the lecturers “very friendly and positive” and told University World News: “It has been hugely important to me to continue my studies at this time. I will be able to use this experience back at Sumy State University and in my future professional activity.”

The Cormack Consultancy Group has been active in Central and Eastern Europe for over 23 years and had staff based in Ukraine, as well as working with many Ukrainian universities.

“After the invasion we were approached by a number of UK client universities keen to help in Ukraine, but unsure what to do, so we came up with a very simple idea of twinning universities,” said Cormack.

“UK universities are offering a range of support and engaging with academics, professional staff and students. With the support of UUKi, the scheme has grown to attract over 140 Ukrainian universities looking for twins. To date, we have twinned over 70 UK institutions, and the project now has the support of the office of the President of Ukraine, and the UK government.”

York twins with Karazin Kharkiv

The University of York was one the first to support the twinning initiative, with its Vice-Chancellor, Professor Charlie Jeffery, and Professor Tetyana Kaganovska, president of Karazin Kharkiv National University, signing a memorandum of understanding via Zoom on 21 June.

The partnership is already leading to staff fellowships and help in managing Kharkiv university cultural heritage in the midst of the conflict.

Jeffery said: “It has been extraordinary to build a programme of collaboration with a university which has been under bombardment for months.

“That our colleagues in Karazin Kharkiv National University have been thinking even in those circumstances about how to work jointly with us on staff and student exchange, accessing online learning materials, and preserving precious library collections, has been inspirational.

“It has been humbling to sign a memorandum of understanding that will shape our collaboration through and beyond the war.”

Kaganovska said the memorandum created an “umbrella framework” for new pilot programmes that share the knowledge, expertise and networks of the two institutions.

She said: “It will support the capacity-building for the restoration of the education process, creation of new methodological principles and practices as well as the agenda for sustainable development of our partnership, despite the war.”

Long-term academic solidarity

Ruth Arnold, a consultant for the charity and higher education sectors in the UK, told University World News the signing of partnerships with Ukraine coordinated by UUKi and the Cormack Consultancy Group was “a welcome signal of shared determination” to offer long-term academic solidarity in practical ways.

“With 71 ‘twinning’ arrangements now announced, and more in the pipeline, it is important to help to sustain communities of scholars and students, even in the face of war, but also to secure critical capacity which will be desperately needed in the future,” she said.

She cited the “in-depth partnerships” between universities like Newcastle and Ukraine’s National University of Water and Environmental Engineering as being important, not only to the future of Ukraine, but also to countries and communities around the world.

“They serve as a useful reminder that universities don’t only want to talk about solidarity with fellow academics at the worst of times, they want to act,” she said.

Nic Mitchell is a UK-based freelance journalist and PR consultant specialising in European and international higher educatin. Follow @DelaCour_comms on twitter. Nic also blogs at www.delacourcommunications.com.