Ukraine war ‘shows need for HE to create more tolerant world’

Ukrainian MP, scholar and ex-deputy education minister tells universities not to offer scholarships to Russian students in summit speech

April 26, 2022

Russia’s war against Ukraine shows the need for higher education not just to deliver economic benefits, but to have a broader mission of making society more open, inclusive, tolerant and caring, according to a Ukrainian academic and former minister.

Inna Sovsun, a professor at the Kyiv School of Economics, delivered a video address to the Times Higher Education Innovation and Impact Summit, hosted by KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, in which she also urged foreign universities not to offer scholarships to Russian students.

Speaking from western Ukraine amid air raid warnings, Professor Sovsun, who has been separated from her son for much of the time since the Russian invasion began in February, said that the Russian army had “destroyed over 1,000 educational institutions all over Ukraine”. These were “kindergartens, schools, university colleges, research institutions, some of them are damaged beyond repairing, so they will just have to be destroyed completely and rebuilt from scratch”.

The invasion showed that the role of higher education was not only about economic development, argued Professor Sovsun, an MP for the liberal, pro-European Holos party, who was deputy education minister between 2014 and 2016.

“It is about making societies better, not better off – just better,” she said. “Making them more open, more inclusive, and more tolerant and more caring about each other. That is something that Russian society doesn’t have today.

“That is something that we are fighting for here in Ukraine, not just to be richer, but actually to be better. And I think that this should be part of educational mission as well…Not just about making money, but again, making societies better – and that will take an effort to reroute high education from this pure economic route to this broader mission.”

Professor Sovsun also said that military research was being shown as one example “where those goals of making societies rich and making societies better contradict each other”.

“We do know that for the past eight years, Russia was able to get access to lots of research, and actually weapons developed based on that research, from European countries,” said Professor Sovsun. “And today they use…the results of [that] research and the weapons that they bought from Germany and France, with a single goal: to kill Ukrainians.”

She added: “Did that make French and German societies better off? Well yes, it did. Did that make them better? Was that the right choice to do? Well, I believe the answer to that question is pretty obvious today. It’s not always about economics.”

While Professor Sovsun welcomed the scholarships offered to Ukrainian students by universities beyond Ukraine, she said she had “also learned that many universities in defining the victims of this war also add Russian students”.

“Comparing the level of suffering of Ukrainians and Russians today is wrong,” she added. “There is no way that those two can be equalised.”

If Western universities offer scholarships to Russian students as well as Ukrainians, “you also add in people who are supporting this war against my country today”, she argued. “So I’m just asking you not to do that.”

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