DAAD calls for action plan to rebuild Ukraine’s HE sector

Marking the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has called for an action plan until 2030 aimed at reconstructing the country’s higher education system, and forging lasting links between Ukrainian higher education and research institutions and European and German partners.

DAAD President Joybrato Mukherjee highlighted the situation of Ukrainian universities and appealed for further support for refugee Ukrainian students and researchers in Germany.

“The war is still continuing a year after Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, and the people there are affected by death, extensive suffering and deprivation. Universities have even been attacked and destroyed. Many students and researchers are attempting to pursue their studies or their research under shelling,” said Mukherjee ahead of the anniversary of the war’s start on 24 February.

Joint projects and financial support

“The DAAD, its member institutions and student bodies have stood firmly by the people in Ukraine since the war began. German universities and their student bodies have in this past year demonstrated considerable commitment to welcoming and supporting refugee students and researchers, and through joint projects with Ukrainian partner universities.”

While higher education organisations in Germany had originally reckoned with up to 100,000 Ukrainian students coming to Germany, autumn 2022 statistics refer to over 30,000, nearly a third of them international students. Ukrainian refugee students tend to initially seek other eastern European countries for language reasons.

Financial support via Germany’s Foreign Office and education and development ministries enabled the DAAD to provide around €21 million (US$22 million) for maintaining higher education in Ukraine and assisting refugee Ukrainian students, academics and researchers in Germany.

Furthermore, it funded around 170 projects involving German and Ukrainian universities addressing issues such as digitisation of education and administration.

Action plan

The DAAD has emphasised the need to swiftly rebuild the higher education sector once the war ends. It has also demanded that Ukraine be more closely involved in the European Research Area and the European Higher Education Area. It stressed that projects implemented by German universities require reliable and long-term federal government funding.

“We in Germany need to have an action plan until 2030 that ensures the rapid and successful rapprochement of Ukraine with the EU and a comprehensive reconstruction of the Ukrainian higher education system,” Mukherjee said. “After all, a close and lasting link between Ukrainian higher education institutions and research institutions with European and German partners also increases our security within Europe.”

Elaborating on the action plan he called for, Mukherjee emphasised the strengthening of Eastern Europe centres at German universities.

“Their expertise on Ukraine, and indeed on the entire post-Soviet region, as well as their immediate proximity will be even more strongly needed in the future,” Mukherjee said. “Especially if we also seek to successfully address new Russian imperialism on a sound scientific basis beyond mere defence policy aspects.”

Peace and security studies programmes

Given what he referred to as “worldwide disorder”, Mukherjee advocated a new culture of debating security politics in Germany, accompanied by corresponding strategy discussions. To achieve this, significantly more programmes for peace and security studies ought to be established “in order to systematically train junior scholars to address the major peace and security issues, like in the USA”, he said.

The third key element in Mukherjee’s ‘Action Plan 2030’ is science diplomacy, an area in which he sees Germany’s higher education and research institutions as having demonstrated particular potential.

In this context, the DAAD-Kompetenzzentrum Internationale Wissenschaftskooperationen (KIWi) (Competence Centre for International Academic Cooperation), set up by the DAAD on the recommendation of the Wissenschaftsrat (German Science and Humanities Council) and in coordination with the major higher education and research organisations, could play a key supporting and advisory role.

“Education, research and science, academic freedom and free international exchange are the hallmarks of the European Higher Education Area,” Mukherjee noted. “The way to Europe naturally goes via education, research and science – also for Ukraine.”