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UK invests emotionally and financially into Ukraine Twinning scheme

From distributing winter clothes and sending an ambulance to Ukraine to providing record-breaking recruitment strategies and proffering trauma support services, the nature, nuance and impact of the UK-Ukraine twinning initiative is wide-ranging.

Some 121 Ukrainian students are studying for a semester at the University of Glasgow as part of the initiative. Photo: the University of Glasgow

Sumy State University had the best recruitment year on record, as a result of the initiative

Speaking to The PIE News, Charles Cormack, director of one of the organising partners, Cormack Consultancy, said he was overwhelmed by the time and investment, both financial and emotional, that universities were choosing to invest, as well as the creativity and flexibility institutions have shown to meet the needs of their Ukrainian counterparts.

Over 100 UK universities are now involved in the Ukraine-UK twinning program which was established in April last year by Cormack Consultancy and UUKi. Partnerships comprise of very different activities and impacts, as well the signing of 55 Memorandums of Understanding.

The University of Liverpool is twinned with Sumy State University and, like many of the partnerships, efforts include supporting teaching at the university in the north east of Ukraine including by creating online resources and learning materials for 13 different subject areas that overlap with those offered at SSU.

Recorded lectures, reading lists and databases for a wide variety of subjects including medicine and economics have been particularly helpful due to teaching gaps caused by the war, with the school of medicine providing resources for the entirety of a five year medical program.

“It’s part of the unique selling point of the relationship that SSU students can see a direct benefit of the twinning with Liverpool as they can see it as part of the curriculum” said Gavin Brown, pro-vice chancellor for education at UoL.

Sumy State University student, Kateryna, in Liverpool

The university now runs an annual summer school program for both staff and students from SSU with a cohort of around 80 taking part in last year’s virtual summer school program. In addition to this, a “handful” travelled to Liverpool to complete the course in-person, said Brown.

Both virtual and on-campus summer schools are planned again for 2023, and accommodation has been allocated in the hope that some participants can attend in-person, despite difficulties in travel as a result of the conflict.

The summer schools have expanded into more traditional study abroad programs, with some students from SSU currently enrolled at the UoL for a semester.

“Obviously when we can Liverpool students will go to SSU. It’s just not possible at the moment” said Brown.

“It’s about what SSU needs because they’re the ones that are facing the immediate difficulties and the partnership will then evolve later on when hopefully the country is out of the war and starts to rebuild and is more stable.”

Sumy State University and University of Liverpool’s online summer school cohort

Another tangible benefit of the partnership between SSU and the UoL has been a joint effort to build upon recruitment at SSU, with the recruitment and marketing teams working closely to develop a campaign, resulting in the best recruitment year on record.

“That worked really well, they have had a bumper year for both undergraduate and postgraduate recruitment, far exceeding their expectations so of course that helps then to put them on a more secure financial footing as well,” said Brown.

Rachel Sandison, deputy vice chancellor of external engagement at the University of Glasgow, spoke to The PIE about the university’s partnership with three Ukrainian institutions – Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Poltava State Medical University and Lviv National Medical University.

Ukrainian students at a Burns Supper event held in Glasgow

The UoG has welcomed 121 students on semester-long opportunities, waiving tuition fees, providing free accommodation and additional stipends for travel and living.

The Ukrainian students studying at the university were recently invited to immerse themselves in Scottish culture at the university’s Burns Night supper event, with one Ukrainian student describing it as a dream come true in an emotional tweet.

Sandison said the inititiative has been “completely transformational” for all sides of the partnerships, adding that she is completely “blown away” by the resilience of Ukrainian students and colleagues.

“This is not something we are doing for today. This is something we are doing for tomorrow and beyond,” said Sandison.

Ukrainian students at the University of Glasgow

Elsewhere in the city of Glasgow, Scottish students have been getting involved too, with one student at Glasgow Caledonian University going above and beyond to support the initiative. Umran Ali Javaid purchased and donated an ambulance, delivering it to a professor from twin university State Tax University, who then drove it Ukraine.

Although most of the universities involved are paired with just one other, a handful have chosen to be paired with more, including the University of Leicester twinned with two – Kremenchuk Mykhailo Otrohradskyi National University and Poltava State Agrarian Academy University.

Geoff Green, registrar and secretary at the University of Leicester told The PIE that many students at Kremenchuk Mykhailo Otrohradskyi National University have lost family members and in some cases entire support networks have been killed in the war.

As a result, staff at the University of Leicester are helping to design an underground shelter where vulnerable students can take refuge with access to trauma support facilities alongside teaching facilities. The university plans to equip the facility with teaching equipment, as well as furniture.

The university is doing further work with WACIT – a social enterprise set up by a former University of Leicester staff member – to deliver specialist training in Kremenchuk to those who need to provide critical support to young people who have been affected by trauma and conflict.

Green added that the university is also in the process of providing winter clothing for around 30 vulnerable students.

Cormack Consultancy has too invested heavily in the initiative – with three full-time roles dedicated to the efforts, including partnership bootcamps for participating institutions, with six hour-long structured meetings.

According to Cormack, the whole process involves buy-in from a whole host of departments within the institutions from IT staff, library staff, student unions and councils and student support.

If you don’t get it sticky, it will fail

“The way we’ve made it work, we know that if you don’t get it sticky, it will fail” said Cormack.

Cormack told The PIE there is potential to further layer some twinning partnerships, allowing them to become ‘triplets’ with global universities, since universities in the US, Australia and Ireland have shown interest in the initiative.

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