In the context of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s current brutal invasion and war on Ukraine, it is difficult, but essential, to consider the present and future of higher education and scientific relations between Russia and the rest of the world.
While formal education and research collaboration and other academic relations with official representatives and organisations affiliated with the Russian government should be paused, we should start thinking about a longer-term perspective as well.
Over the past decades, the three of us have had regular contact with Russian higher education, including participation in, and advice to, government-funded initiatives. We have always done so with a critical eye and in the interest of international academic collaboration. The primary focus of our activities has been to work closely with students and scholars, providing them, and ourselves, with an opportunity for cooperation that was as autonomous as possible from political interference.
In the current context, it is clear that participation in government-controlled and -funded activities with Russia needs to be stopped immediately and that solidarity and support must be primarily focused on Ukraine, especially in light of the shameful declaration of support for the war published by the Russian Union of Rectors.
But what about the long term?
Recent calls by several United States politicians to expel all Russian students and scholars currently in the United States are completely counterproductive. We have witnessed the great support given by Russian immigrants, in particular students and scholars, to the Ukrainian people, as well as their protests against the Putin regime.
We understand and support the cancelling of formal academic and research relations with Russia by authorities in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere.
At the same time, we agree with the firm but nuanced statement of the European University Association (EUA) on the importance of academic and research engagement with Russia.
While suspending the membership of the 12 institutions which signed the support letter to Putin, the EUA emphasises the importance of supporting Russian academics who protest against the Putin regime, often at great personal risk of being arrested or fired, and the need to keep communication channels open with these individuals.
For the most part, Russian academics and scientists are not directly involved with the invasion of Ukraine and many reports indicate widespread opposition to the war in universities.