Universities in Scotland: Statements on Current Conflict

Of the 19 institutions of higher education offering university level degrees, Abertay, Dundee, Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier, Glasgow Caledonian, Robert Gordon, Strathclyde and the Open University have included Russian staff and students in those negatively affected by the current conflict in Ukraine. Aberdeen has “anyone affected”; Glasgow has “colleagues, students, applicants, and their families”; UWS has “students of all nationalities” and “colleagues affected by the current situation”. Glasgow School of Art, Queen Margaret and SRUC do not have an obvious statement on this conflict on their website, the Royal Conservatoire appears to have a password protected statement for students. Herriot Watt endorses the statement of Universities Scotland which includes Russian staff and students.

Robert Gordon is disposing of its Russian equity as are St Andrews and Edinburgh which also is “reviewing the honorary degree awarded to the Head of the Ruskiy Mir Foundation”. Mir means peace. Dundee is “reviewing [its] investment portfolio and other activities”. Glasgow has enacted “a suspension of partnerships with Russian and Belarusian universities”. Strathclyde has “raised the Ukrainian flag on […] campus and will be illuminating a number of our buildings in its national colours”.

UHI and St Andrews (my alma mater) are the most explicit in unbiased support for all staff and students:

The University of the Highlands and Islands stands united with the Highlands and Islands Students’ Association and all students across our partnership in calling for a rapid and peaceful resolution to the war in Ukraine and to avoid further tragedy and humanitarian consequences.

We know the situation has created anxiety and upset for many, particularly our staff, students and those in our local communities from Ukraine, Russia and the neighbouring countries, whose families and friends may be affected.

We care passionately about our students and staff and the people living in our communities. We continue to engage with them, reminding them of the support services available, and are in direct communication with those students most impacted.

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.

Stirling has an interesting policy blogpost by Professor Holger Nehring which gives detailed information on the complexity of the conflict. None of the other 14 universities with an explicit statement on their website has commented on this complexity. By failing to do so, they ignore decades of academic work in media studies on the political bias and hyperreal creativity in reporting of conflict. Most of them, despite some recognition of difficulties faced in Scotland and abroad by ethnic Russian staff and students and the public, have explicit statements of partial solidarity such as “We Stand With Ukraine”.

If universities in Scotland cannot resit the impulse to pontificate on foreign conflict, at least they should do so in an intelligent and ethical way that is in line with their stated values. I suggest the following 5 points:

  1. We recognise that the conflict in Ukraine currently widely reported is not recent, is one among many that are not being reported, and has elements of hyperreality (Eco, 1986; Baudrillard, 1995; Glasgow University Media Group, 1976)
  2. We express solidarity with all staff and students negatively affected by this media coverage and condemn any harassment of ethnic minorities in Scotland or abroad.
  3. We affirm academic freedom of thought and freedom of expression as inalienable rights.
  4. We value the cultural contribution of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine to arts and literature as well as that of their scientific endeavours.
  5. We express profound sympathy for all innocent people everywhere who are caught up in conflict, including refugees.

Baudrillard, Jean (1995) The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. Translated from the French by Paul Patton. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Eco, Umberto (1986) Travels in Hyperreality. Translated from the Italian by William Weaver. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace & Co.

Glasgow University Media Group (1976) Bad News. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

“St Andrews Stands with Ukraine” design, with flags, drawn on the West Sands.

Photo courtesy of University of St Andrews Communications Office used with instruction to share on social media and tag the university in posts.