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Rankings compilers shift operations in response to Ukraine invasion

Key international education businesses are pausing operations with Russian partners with some saying they will cease promoting the country as a study destination in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Not all study abroad platforms have yet halted promoting Russian institutions or adjusted their Russian content. Photo: pixabay

Shkuratov also called for similar measures to be taken against Belarusian universities

Included among the organisations that have said they will pause partnerships with Russian counterparts are two rankings organisations – QS World University Rankings and Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings.

QS Quacquarelli Symonds has said it will “redact Russian and Belarussian entries in new QS university rankings” and it is “ceasing promoting Russian universities or Russia as a study destination”.

Additionally, QS is ceasing any new customer engagement in Russia and pausing active engagement with current Russian customers.

THE said it will take steps to ensure that Russian universities are given “less prominence” in its rankings, while university profiles will not be available. The universities will not be using branding or other promotional opportunities offered by THE until further notice, the company added.

“We believe in the power of international education to promote understanding and collaboration, yet we have seen images of university campuses indiscriminately attacked and our partners, colleagues and friends displaced in this humanitarian catastrophe,” Nunzio Quacquarelli, founder and CEO of QS said.

“The sector will play a pivotal role in rebuilding, and we stand ready to support that, but we cannot continue to support Russian institutions under current circumstances.”

“We cannot continue to support Russian institutions under current circumstances”

Chief executive of Times Higher Education Paul Howarth wrote on March 4 that the “current situation requires a response that reflects our solidarity with Ukraine, and our rejection of Russia’s aggression”.

“We understand that Russian universities are not synonymous with the Russian government, and we firmly believe that many of those working in higher education in Russia are fully committed to those values, and we hope that in time they will be able to play a central role in bringing Russia back into the international community in a constructive way,” he continued.

Ukraine’s deputy minister of European Integration, Oleksii Shkuratov, had previously written to QS and THE, in addition to other rankings companies Shanghai Ranking, Centre for Higher Education, which compiles U-Multirank, and Cybermetrics Lab – CSIC, which runs Webometrics Ranking of World Universities.

He urged the companies to completely stop cooperation with the Russian Federation, terminate cooperation with citizens of the Russian Federation and stop including Russian universities in their respective rankings.

Shkuratov also called for similar measures to be taken against Belarusian universities.

“These measures are completely justified and logical, given that Russian education and science are used by the Russian authorities for aggressive purposes, criminal propaganda, works to strengthen the military-industrial potential of the state, which threatens the world with nuclear weapons,” he said.

Some recruitment platforms have also said they will cease promoting Russia as a study abroad destination.

Studee has said it will not be engaging with new partners from Russia and is pausing any current agreements with Russian institutions.

“Along with many of our partners, we believe that education is one of the most powerful tools to unite the world and recognise that many of the students and faculty at Russian institutions are appalled by the Russian government’s actions. However, due to the current circumstances, we cannot continue to promote Russian institutions at this time,” the UK-based platform said.

Not all platforms have yet halted promoting Russian institutions.

Another platform that has amended its approach is, which has added a statement to its site.

“As an effect of the invasion, Russia has now been isolated by most of the rest of the world politically and economically through severe sanctions. These also affect international students.

“We recommend that you look for study options in other countries,” it reads.

It has been a topic debated heavily internally, stakeholders have told The PIE.

“On the one hand you could argue any type of information about Russia should be removed, even this content that’s not promotional. On the other you could argue it would be against our very raison d’être to remove free information,” one said. The source is adamant that removing content or placing it in the right context is the best option.

Others The PIE has spoken to have said that cutting ties fully is a difficult decision to make, for fear of isolating supportive, anti-war activists in Russia. “Of course it would be much better for the world way if Putin would be forced to stop from the inside and not from the outside by weapons, because that could get really bloody,” one leader in international education said.

“It’s really hard where to draw the line”

However, they added a recent statement from the Russian Union of Rectors supporting Putin’s decision to take military action in Ukraine is “something straight out of the Kremlin, without consultation – according to our sources at these institutions”.

“As education should be part of the solution, it’s really hard where to draw the line,” the source told The PIE.

Howarth added that THE, as it ends all business development activity in Russia and its decision on its rankings, expects the performance of Russian universities to “be impacted negatively by the actions of the Russian government”.

“As such, we will allow the rankings to do what they are designed to do, and show the world the impact of those decisions. This, we feel, is the appropriate way to show that actions have consequences,” he said.

Both QS and THE said they are fundraising to support Ukraine, with QS matching team members’ donations to the UN Refugee Agency, while THE will develop charitable activities at its forthcoming summits to raise funds to support at-risk academics.

Editor of Rankings Web Isidro F. Aguillo said that Cybermetrics Lab has never had any commercial partnerships beyond attending academic conferences and seminars, as it is a public non-for-profit organisation.

“We are not a consulting agency, we do not collect information directly from universities and we do not accept marketing proposals. This is true for all the countries, including both Russia and Belarus,” he said.

However, prior to the current war Donbas rebel universities were excluded from its rankings and the two Russian universities in Crimea were included but without any country mention.

“We just decide to decrease the added value information we provide for the HEIs of these two countries”

“As regarding the current situation, we strongly condemn the unjustified attack of Russia with the cooperation of Belarus. So, we just decide to decrease the added value information we provide for the HEIs of these two countries. The world rank is preserved, but the values of the individual variables are to be deleted,” Aguillo explained.

“Any further actions could be taken according to the evolution of the situation.”

The PIE contacted Shanghai Ranking and Centre for Higher Education for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.

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