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Universities divided on cutting ties with Russia

The Danish government has today followed Germany in calling on educational institutions to suspend all cooperation with institutions in Russia in response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Institutions are considering how to react to the Russian invasion of Ukraine Photo: Pexels

Other universities continue to be divided over whether to cut ties with Russian institutions

In a letter to universities, Jesper Petersen, Denmark’s minister for Higher Education and Science, called on all universities and higher education institutions to suspend their cooperation with institutions in Russia and Belarus.

“This will be a clear signal that military aggression results in isolation from the international community,” he said. “The government condemns the actions of Russia and Belarus and pledges its support for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.”

The German government instructed universities to freeze academic relations with Russia on February 24, but many universities in other countries have yet to announce any similar ending of ties. 

In Ireland, Ben Tonra resigned from his role as vice principal for internationalisation and global engagement at University College Dublin in response to the university’s position on Ukraine. 

Writing on Twitter, Tonra, who will continue his teaching and research role as full professor of international relations at UCD, said, “Based on the statements and response of the university’s leadership to the invasion of Ukraine and the role of the Confucius Institute on campus, it is clear to me that I do not share the values underpinning UCD’s global engagement strategy”.

On February 28, University College Dublin expressed “its concern with the situation in Ukraine, and in particular with the violation of international law and the unnecessary and tragic human suffering and loss of life”.

Speaking to The PIE News, Tonra called the statement issued by the university “extraordinarily mealy-mouthed”. 

He said: “The anxiety of the university was that a very strong statement on Russia might lead to expectations that the university would have very strong statements on other issues, particularly related to China.”

UCD is home to the Chinese-government funded Confucius Institute for Ireland, which aims to strengthen links between Ireland and China. 

Tonra called on all universities to cut ties with Russian institutions, saying, “If we are to sanction Russia in a way that is effective, then that means tearing Russia out of the fabric of the modern international society. That’s economics, that’s sport, that’s culture and that’s academia.” 

But he warned of wariness when it comes to sanctioning individual students and academics in Russia, acknowledging that many of them are opposed to the war and doing so could make their lives “more challenging”. 

“There should be no adverse consequences on a personal basis”

“I don’t want to make their lives any more difficult,” Tonra said. “There should be no adverse consequences on a personal basis.”

On March 1, University College Dublin updated its statement to say it “deplores and condemns the actions of Russia”. 

Other universities continue to be divided over whether to cut ties with Russian institutions. In a statement updated on March 1, Universities UK called the invasion “appalling” but said nothing about cutting research ties. Similarly, the University Association for Contemporary European Studies condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine and encouraged members to “contribute to humanitarian efforts in the region”. 

Warwick University has announced that it would review all its links to Russian State institutions “with a view to terminating contracts where possible”. MIT also announced that it would be ending its 11-year partnership with Russia’s tech hub, Skolkovo. 

University College Dublin has been contacted for further comment.

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