‘Whole system is working’: Ukraine universities teach under fire

Existing students able to complete courses as usual, but universities face question mark over autumn recruitment

七月 1, 2022
People standing near a Ukrainian national flag watch as dark smoke billows following an air strike in Lviv to illustrate Ukraine universities teach under fire
Source: Getty

As Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its fifth month, universities on and beyond the front lines are continuing to teach their students despite being unable to access their campuses, according to academics.

Oleksandr Spivakovskiy, rector of Kherson State University, said staff had been unable to return to his institution since Russian troops took over the city in June.

“Practically no one is going to the university,” he said. “[The Russians] just came in with automatic [rifles] and designated their own rector – and arrested our pro-rector, who was securing the functioning of the university under these difficult circumstances.”

Russian forces said they would put in place their own curricula, but Professor Spivakovskiy said it was unclear how they could make this happen with “very, very few people” agreeing to cooperate with them.

“They had access neither to internet, nor to staff, nor teachers,” he said. “Further, they needed to answer the question, by which curriculum are they going to teach and who at all is going to recognise these diplomas.”

Most of the institution’s employees and students had already been working remotely for some time, with the administration moving in April to the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk, where the local university offered classroom space.

Roughly 70 per cent of students and faculty remained in Kherson, with another 20 per cent in western Ukraine and the remainder going elsewhere in Europe, Professor Spivakovskiy said.

Online learning had played a key role, he continued, with only 4 per cent of students unable to take state exams at the end of term.

“We continue to work, to teach – the whole system is working,” he said. “Pay, learning, the educational process, taking the government exams…all the processes of the university have been secured.”

Institutions on the front lines may be in a worse position than those that have relocated, said Dmytro Chumachenko, an associate professor at Kharkiv’s National Aerospace University.

“They’re bombing Kharkiv every day…a lot of labs are destroyed,” he said. Two staff have been killed in missile strikes, while a lot of computers and other equipment have been lost.

Many staff and students have left Kharkiv, but some pro-rectors are still on-site to record damage and arrange repairs. Asked whether the university would consider moving its campus, Dr Chumachenko dismissed the idea.

“Everybody understands that Ukraine will win, and we’ll need to rebuild after that – and transferring the scientific and education centre from its second biggest city to another city is, in my opinion, strategically wrong. We need to continue our research and our education in all Ukraine – in Kharkiv, too,” he said.

Already, some of Dr Chumachenko’s students have defended their theses, including one who did so from hospital after being injured in a Russian missile strike.

“Some students told me that it helps mentally to turn off from what’s going on,” he said.

Like Professor Spivakovskiy, he was emphatic that the quality of education at his institution was “still high”, but acknowledged that it faced a steep challenge in attracting new students this autumn to a campus that remains under fire.

“To be honest, I’m not sure there will be anybody,” Dr Chumachenko said. “If I were a parent of that boy or girl, I would think a thousand times if I would want my children to study in that territory.”




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