Universities UK (UUK), which represents 140 universities across the United Kingdom, said in a statement on the situation in Ukraine, published on Thursday, that it does “not support the application of blanket academic boycotts that prevent academics collaborating with other academics as a means of protest against the actions of their governments”.
It added that it was advising member universities to make decisions about whether to continue collaborations with Russian universities or academics on a “case-by-case basis” informed by Government guidance and “appropriate due diligence”.
UUK added that it had asked members to “review current and planned activities involving Russian partners in the light of recent developments”, with reference to its published guidance on managing international security issues.
The risks to universities are not limited to the theft of intellectual property and data, or the security of university campuses
Universities UK guidance
The guidance states that universities should consider “reputational, ethical and security risks” in their processes, and that institutions should carry out “due diligence on all respective overseas partners, for all types of collaboration”.
“The risks to universities are not limited to the theft of intellectual property and data, or the security of university campuses,” the guidance says.
“There are also threats to the values that have underpinned the success of the higher education sector: academic freedom, freedom of speech and institutional autonomy. These values are rooted in the UK’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law,” it adds.
UUK’s Thursday statement added that “many education and research partnerships are often based on academic peer-to peer relationships”, noting that “many Russian students and academics, at great personal peril, have publicly criticised this invasion”.
It said that its “primary focus” was the support that could be provided to Ukrainian staff and students who are in the UK or who arrived having fled the conflict. UUK said it was using its policy position to address issues such as access to visas and financial support.
And it said that “further to the UK Government announcing a review of government funding for research collaborations involving Russia, we have been providing advice to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and will continue to support our members”.
A source close to the discussion in the higher education sector told the PA news agency that UUK was “probably right” to condemn a blanket ban.
They added that many universities, especially within the Russell Group and those specialising in research, would be “spending a lot of time internally looking at their exposure and whether they need to change their approach, while also worrying about safeguarding existing Russian and Ukrainian students”.
They added that the existing guidance lacked clarity to help universities know exactly how to respond to the situation.
Warwick University has already pledged to review its ties to Russian institutions in light of the conflict.
On Monday, the university announced it would review all its links to Russian state institutions, with a view to terminating contracts where possible.
Vice Chancellor and President Professor Stuart Croft said this review would “include student exchanges, and so is very challenging; we will, of course, engage with the Student Union on this”.
“Universities, by their very nature, are international and that has consequences: when all that is important is put at risk, we must speak out,” he added.
Prof Croft said he had written to the Russian ambassador to the UK to protest about the invasion.
A leading body of UK private schools has also advised that schools should not accept fees from Russia.
The Independent Schools Council (ISC), which represents over 1,300 private schools, warned members that they could face legal issues if they accepted payment from Government-sanctioned individuals.
ISC chief executive Julie Robinson said: “Sanctions currently imposed on individuals and Russian banks mean schools must not accept payments of fees from these sources.”