Principal’s update on the war in Ukraine

Friday 11 March 2022

Principal Professor Sally Mapstone FRSE emailed all staff and students this week (Tuesday 8 March) with an update on staff and student welfare and what action the University is taking in response to the war in Ukraine.

Photo credit © Florian Reichelt — PG student in International Relations

Dear Colleagues and Students,

I am writing to update you all on the University’s response to the invasion of Ukraine and the appalling actions of the Russian government.

Student and staff welfare

We have been in contact with our Ukrainian students and members of staff since the outbreak of war to offer practical support and advice. It is difficult to imagine how awful it must be to be far from home, and desperately worried about what is happening to your country, your loved ones, and friends. Your courage and dignity is humbling, and an example to us all, and St Andrews will do all it can to support you.

We have also reached out to our Russian students and staff to offer support and reassurance. The Russian people did not invade Ukraine, President Putin and the Russian government alone carry that grim responsibility, and it is important that our Russian friends and colleagues know that they remain welcome and safe here.

We have a very small number of Ukrainian students still in Ukraine, who are continuing to try to study remotely, even when this has meant online lessons interrupted by air raid sirens. We are supporting them as best we can.

Ten of our UK students were in Russia on language exchange programmes organised by the UK charity Russian Language Undergraduate Studies when the invasion of Ukraine began. We flew all of them out of Russia before the ban on flights took effect, and are currently looking at what alternative provision we can make in St Andrews.

Institutional links, research collaborations, and investments

Our position in St Andrews, and one that is reflected across the international HE sector, is that we will not cooperate with the Russian state, and are suspending any programmes, collaborations or activities under that definition.

This means that we have suspended our joint Masters programme with Moscow State University. We withdrew from a historical cooperation agreement with MGIMO some time ago.

The question of individual and group research collaborations with colleagues in Russia is a more complex one.

Education and research partnerships are often based on longstanding, personal academic peer-to-peer relationships, and we note that many Russian students and academics, at great personal peril, have publicly criticised this invasion.

We support the Universities UK and Universities Scotland position that the free exchange of ideas between universities and academics, regardless of nationality or location, should continue, while recognising the importance of managing the risks associated with international collaboration, and having due regard to funding sources. If a collaboration or joint project involves Russian state funding, we would expect our staff to withdraw from it. This is also the position of the Scottish and UK governments.

Our University Endowment Funds are held for us in an ethical investment portfolio, managed by external fund managers. Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, the fund managers had invested a small sum of our money, approximately £40,000, in two Russian holdings. We instructed immediate divestment last week.

Our community response

Few could fail to be moved by the response of our students and staff last week to the war in Ukraine, and your support for vigils, marches, and fundraising efforts.

I know that this University and its students and staff will continue to make our voices heard in loud condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine, to support efforts to bring a just and speedy conclusion to the war, and to provide meaningful practical support to those directly affected by it.

Regrettably, however, we should prepare for this to be a long rather than short crisis.

In anticipation of the need to support St Andrews students and staff affected by the invasion in the months ahead, the University has launched a greatest-need hardship fund to assist with accommodation, living expenses and other incidentals. Our Development colleagues will administer this appeal and further details are available on the SaintsFunder web page.

University of Sanctuary

This week, St Andrews will celebrate the second anniversary of becoming a University of Sanctuary, a status never more important than it is now.

It is under the Sanctuary umbrella, and specifically our work with the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA), that we will look at ways that we may be able to provide support to academic colleagues and our research collaborators who are currently in Ukraine. CARA specialises in getting academics safely out of conflict zones.

Our Global Office is the hub for our relationship with CARA, and colleagues with concerns, questions, or requests for assistance about friends and fellow academics in Ukraine should speak with their Head of School and liaise with our Global Office team in the first instance.

Sanctuary status means we are committed to ensuring St Andrews is a welcoming, safe and supportive environment for scholars and students seeking sanctuary in the UK, and this week will provide an opportunity to bring together members of the University community, local residents, partner organisations, and international researchers to explore, share and inform. Sanctuary Celebration Week runs from 7 to 11 March. An information session explaining what it means to be a University of Sanctuary will be held tomorrow, Wednesday 9 March at 2pm, and is open to all staff and students. At this session, the Deputy Executive Director of CARA will outline CARA’s support for scholars at risk.

We are an international community in St Andrews, and will not forget that the war in Ukraine is not the only conflict affecting those with whom we work and study.

Looking ahead

We will remain in dialogue with the Scottish and UK Governments about ways in which universities can support people directly affected by the war, and how we play our part in strengthening international efforts to sanction and bring pressure to bear on the Russian government.

On a personal level, the sense of outrage and concern in St Andrews over the past fortnight has been palpable. Listening to the news is particularly difficult at the moment, and will continue to be difficult for some time.

I know that this affects people in different ways, and can particularly affect mental health.

Our Student Services team has put together an excellent suite of resources for students or staff affected by increased anxiety, available on their Instagram pages.

I will do my best to keep you all informed of any changes or updates to the actions I have set out above.

Sally Mapstone FRSE
Principal and Vice-Chancellor

Email from Principal Professor Sally Mapstone FRSE to all staff and students on Tuesday 8 March.

Posted by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

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