This article is more than 2 years old

Students need universities to act over Ukraine

This article is more than 2 years old

Rhiannon Ellis is President at Herts SU

James Avison is President at Bangor University Students’ Union

A large group of student leaders from across the UK has come together to form a group discussing the devastating impacts of the invasion of Ukraine, and we can respond to support students who are impacted.

After speaking with students across our institutions, we have compiled a list of urgent recommendations that seek to ensure affected students are supported. We’re calling for the urgent support of Universities UK and the wider sector in considering and implementing our suggestions.

Supporting our students

First, we call on universities across the UK to offer support to all students from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and any other bordering countries. They are all currently being affected by the conflict and students from those areas are very distressed and uncertain about what may happen in the future, universities have a duty of care to these students.

Due to the nature of the conflict, we are particularly concerned for the welfare of students from Russian backgrounds, who are starting to find themselves being held personally to account for the actions of their government. Universities must immediately take action to communicate support channels and engage proactively and personally with students who experience harassment.

Next, it’s important that universities offer and clearly signal hardship funds for students from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. The financial situation is very uncertain, with many citizens being frozen out of their bank accounts, or unable to withdraw or spend any money. Families have lost or can’t access money. It’s important that students impacted can access immediate financial support through a streamlined process with a need for minimal evidence.

Universities should be prepared to offer rent amnesties and tuition fee waivers to students impacted by the conflict, and should ensure that students who are unable to return to their home countries over the Easter and summer breaks have access to accommodation free of charge. Students should never have to choose between their finances and their safety.

There is also the question of stress of the conflict on students from the affected countries and the way that is likely to impact academic progress. We recommend that universities implement and proactively offer bespoke exceptional circumstances arrangements to ensure that students from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus are fully supported academically and no students are needlessly worrying about passing assignments during such a terrible situation. That’s a policy that should also be kept fluid in case the situation escalates further.

It’s also important to us that universities seek to immediately support any students, regardless of fee status or nationality, currently in Ukraine (such as Erasmus students, exchange students, and students on work placements) to help them return to the UK, or a country of their choosing.

Looking further

When it comes to the actions of our universities, we call on universities to implement ethical investment policies, commiting to the immediate withdrawal of investments in Russian or Belarusian companies which are complicit in the invasion of Ukraine. Students oppose the invasion and do not want their tuition fees investing in invasion and imperialism. We also implore universities to declare and reject any donations from Russian oligarchs – students do not want their education to be influenced by powerful elites who support the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine.

In addition, universities should also reconsider any partnerships with Russian institutions which are linked to the Russian government, implementing ethical partnership policies to ensure that they do not create partnerships with countries which abuse human rights or invade other countries.

Our concerns don’t stop with our own members or universities. We stand with students in Ukraine who didn’t cause the conflict and deserve our help. We note that in the Republic of Ireland, universities are preparing to welcome large numbers of refugees from Ukraine️ at all levels – right through to PhD. Universities here should prepare to do so too – each making a major commitment to admitting, housing, funding and recognising the prior attainment of a substantial number of students. Pressure should also be placed on the government to do all it can facilitate that process. Anything less would be a scandal.

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