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How twinning is working in practice to support Ukrainian universities

Rachel Sandison shares how relationships between the University of Glasgow and three Ukrainian universities are supporting immediate needs and building for the future
This article is more than 1 year old

Rachel Sandison is Deputy Vice Chancellor - External Engagement, and Vice Principal - External Relations at the University of Glasgow

The deplorable and unlawful war in Ukraine has sent shockwaves across the globe.

The situation has prompted an uncharacteristically swift response from the UK’s higher education sector, where there has been both public outcry and a determination to provide meaningful support to Ukrainian students and colleagues.

As the University of Glasgow’s Refugee & Asylum Seeker Champion, I have had the opportunity to engage directly with those seeking sanctuary and support, which continues to be heart-breaking, humbling and inspiring in equal measure.


When the war in Ukraine first broke out, the university moved quickly to condemn the actions of the Russian Federation, signing public statements, enhancing support for those impacted both in Glasgow and Ukraine, and calling for collective sectoral action. However, it was clear that much more would be required to help protect Ukrainian institutions and their communities.

The response from the sector has been the inception of the UK-Ukraine Twinning Initiative led by Cormack Consultancy with support from Universities UK International (UUKi). This initiative has enabled more than 70 UK universities to be “twinned” with a Ukrainian partner/s to provide both immediate support as well as longer-term capacity strengthening and strategic engagement.

Our partners

The University of Glasgow is proud to be partnered with the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (NaUKMA) as well as two medical schools in Ukraine: Danylo Halytsky Lviv National Medical University, and Poltava State Medical University.

In the case of NaUKMA, a request was made by Glasgow to be formally matched given an extant relationship developed via a historic Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters Degree programme in Central and Eastern European Studies and two successful Erasmus+ ICM grants. An initial senior leadership meeting helped to solidify the aims and ambitions of NaUKMA with respect to the twinning partnership. Importantly for both institutions, the partnership has been characterised as one that should be deep, broad and strategic in nature, with a focus on long-term collaboration across research, teaching and mobility.

For NaUKMA, there has been a keenness to extend research cooperation, establish satellite campuses and find meaningful ways to stem potential brain drain – a concern that has been raised repeatedly by Ukrainian universities who fear that forcibly displaced students, researchers and academics may not find their way back to Ukrainian higher education post-war.

Our plans

Underpinned by support from the Cormack Consultancy team, a working group was quickly established drawing key colleagues together from both institutions to develop a deliverable action plan.

Access to online teaching resources and digital library repositories was set as a baseline, but a key plank of the plan has been facilitating semester-long mobility for NaUKMA students, leading to an agreement for Glasgow to host 100 students over the course of the next academic year, with fees waived and all associated costs (accommodation, monthly stipend, visas, etc) being met. Dedicated staffing has been put into place to manage this process and to work with NaUKMA colleagues on supporting all stages of the journey for their students.

This is also true for our medical school partners – where the university hopes to welcome 21 students for clinical observerships in the NHS. As a result of this increased mobility, Glasgow has committed further investment into specialised student support to ensure that appropriate pastoral help is readily available for both existing students impacted by the war, those joining us from our partners, as well as new entrants in September.

Looking to the future

With NaUKMA, research collaboration was always cited as a key priority, and from the outset areas of research interest were shared and commonalities explored. This has led to a number of peer-to-peer meetings taking place with academic colleagues from both institutions in areas such as law, computing science, physics and business. The objective is to open existing Glasgow research groups to NaUKMA colleagues – and to define where collaborative research projects could be developed, and joint funding bids made.

As a university with a global outlook, NaUKMA has several key partners in Europe and North America, which is also providing a platform to explore tripartite collaboration with Glasgow. The opportunity to share best practice, cooperate and combine resources is an exciting development for all.

Paradoxically, the war has heightened our Ukrainian partners’ ambitions and the desire to be internationally connected. Much like the national flower of Ukraine, the sunflower, colleagues continue to turn their heads towards the light. So, although our initial aim was to support partners to continue to operate during the war, our overarching mandate now is to develop long-term, sustainable, and mutually beneficial partnerships.

The twinning initiative has already enjoyed significant success with 25 new memoranda of understanding freshly signed between UK and Ukrainian institutions, and the promise of greater collaboration to come; however, perhaps most importantly, it has provided some hope in the darkest of times and reinforced the fundamental importance of international partnership and the collective good of the higher education community.

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