How will the Polish scientific community help Ukraine? - I and II day 'Solidarity with Ukraine'

It is time, to sum up, the intensive 'Solidarity with Ukraine' conference devoted to various types of assistance that the Polish academic community has offered and can offer to our eastern neighbours. We heard about the needs of scientists from Ukraine from the Ukrainian Minister of Education and Science Serhiy Shkarlet and Andrey Vitrenko, First Deputy Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine. Potential solutions were discussed, among others, by the rectors of Polish universities, Deputy Minister of Education and Science prof. dr hab. Włodzimierz Bernacki and Director of the National Academic Exchange Agency dr Grażyna Żebrowska.

 Rector of the University of Gdańsk prof. dr hab. Piotr Stepnowski. Photo by Alan Stocki

The conference was opened by the Rector of the University of Gdańsk, prof. dr hab. Piotr Stepnowski, who welcomed all the distinguished guests. - 'I hope that the fruits of this conference will help us to set the most important goals in thoughtful and long-term cooperation between the Polish and Ukrainian academic communities - began the Rector. - We are aware that any changes must be planned wisely and must be system-based.'

Deputy Minister of Education and Science, prof. dr hab. Włodzimierz Bernacki. Photo by Marcel Jakubowski


After the Rector of UG, representatives of the most important Polish institutions connected with higher education presented their perspectives on the problem of the destroyed academic society in Ukraine. - 'We do not want to go beyond the suggestions and formal-legal solutions proposed by the Ukrainian side,' - declared Minister Włodzimierz Bernacki. NAWA director dr Grażyna Żebrowska talked about the newly created programme 'Solidarity with Ukraine'. The final introductory speech belonged to Minister Serhiy Szkarłet, who summarized the cooperation between the Polish and Ukrainian Ministries of Education and Science to date.

First Panel entitled 'Solidarity with Ukraine - How to support students in times of war?'

Each of the conference panels concerned a different type of assistance that the Polish academic community can offer Ukraine. During the first panel, the conference participants discussed support for Ukrainian students who came to our country. The President of the Conference of Rectors of Academic Schools in Poland, prof. dr hab. Arkadiusz Mężyk emphasized that the most important thing is not to capture the future elites of the Ukrainian state. As a solution to this problem, the Rector of the Silesian University of Technology mentioned the possibility of introducing double diplomas.

'The most important conclusion that can be drawn from the experience so far is that our assistance must continue. We should continue to promote academic exchange and support Ukraine's accession to the European Union,' - commented the Rector of the Medical University of Gdańsk, prof. dr hab. Marcin Gruchała, the Chairman of the Conference of Rectors of Academic Medical Universities (KRAUM).

The second panel entitled 'Recognition of education - an open door to integration'

How to accept and recognise the qualifications of students and scientists who did not bring diplomas with them was discussed during the second panel.

Dr Monika Poboży, Director of the Department for International Cooperation, presented the changes that came into force with the spec act of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. These include the exemption of universities from conducting competitions in the case of hiring Ukrainian teachers and the abolition of the requirement of Polish scientific titles for scientists from Ukraine (e.g. habilitation and doctorate).

Einar Meier from the Norwegian Agency for Recognition of Quality in Education provided an interesting voice during the discussion. The Norwegian told about the European Qualification Passport that his country prepared after the war in Syria to confirm the education of newly arrived refugees. - 'After this experience, I can assure you that the recognition of qualifications based on interviews is effective,' - said Einer Meier.

Finally, the Director of the State Company 'Information and Image Centre' in Kyiv Viktoriya Sergiyenko assured us that her centre does everything to preserve the continuity of education for Ukrainian students.

The third panel entitled 'Volunteering - we are with you'

Another type of assistance based on individual actions was discussed by volunteer organisers.

Katarzyna Wychodnik from the National Council of PhD Students talked about the activities of her institution, including charity concerts and the functioning of crisis teams.

'The idea for our fundraising "Students for Ukraine" fell on very fertile ground,' - said another participant of the panel, coordinator of the action 'Students for Ukraine', Marcelina Wilczewska - 'Contrary to what is sometimes said about students, we managed to mobilise very quickly and already on February 24th the first transport to Ukraine left.'

The participants of the panel were asked what guided them more during their actions - the heart or the mind? The answer with every participant was the heart because it could not be stopped in such a moving situation.

Representatives of Polish universities joined the panel with Andrey Vitrenko, First Deputy Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine

The moderator of the last panel was the Rector of the University of Gdańsk, prof. dr hab. Piotr Stepnowski, who started this part by asking the representatives of the Ukrainian academic society what kind of help they needed. - 'Our main goal is to increase or at least maintain the potential of the Ukrainian academic community. Therefore, I would like to ask the rectors of Polish universities to provide our students with access to the knowledge base, which is the library. For our scientists, I would ask to temporarily employ them and allow them to teach our students,' replied prof. Andrey Vitrenka, First Deputy Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine. 

Other panellists spoke about the ways in which they have helped so far and about their experiences. Dr hab. Rafał Witkowski, prof. UAM, Vice-Rector for International Cooperation said that his university used only its own budget to help Ukraine.

'According to our estimates, Polish universities have currently spent around PLN 50 million on helping students and scientists from Ukraine. Currently, about 10,000 refugees are staying in academic houses,' - presented the data by the University of Warsaw Vice-Rector for Students and Quality of Education, dr hab. Sławomir Żółtek, prof. UW.

The fourth panel entitled 'Polish-Ukrainian academic cooperation: needs, opportunities, reality'

'We have been focusing on assistance in the person-institution relationship, but we should not forget about the university-university relationship. Our cooperation between institutions should be based on exchange,' - said the President of the Polish Rectors Foundation, prof. dr hab. Jerzy Woźnicki. One of the ways of university-university support is including Ukrainian universities in European consortiums, such as SEA EU or EPICUR, which was also discussed by the panel participants.

The last panel was also attended by the Rector of the AGH University of Science and Technology, prof. dr hab. inż. Jerzy Lis, prof. Arkadiusz Mężyk and the Deputy Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, Vira Rogova. A discussion among representatives of Polish universities concluded on the first day of the conference.


The first day of the conference started with a discussion on aid to students and the second day with aid to scientists. - 'A week after the outbreak of war we managed to announce the first scholarship programme. Within three days our funds were exhausted, but sixty scientists from Ukraine came to us,' - said the President of the Polish Academy of Sciences, prof. dr hab. a member of PAS, Jerzy Duszyński'Currently, we are slowly beginning to accumulate funds that allow us to offer scholarships for six or even twelve months to scientists from Ukraine.'

Panel I 'Scientific mobility and support of scientists in wartime'

President of the Board of the Foundation for Science, prof. dr hab. a member of PAS Maciej Żylicz from the Polish Academy of Sciences referred to the moment in his life when he himself was a refugee and stressed the importance of 'bridge grants', i.e. grants which would allow Ukrainian scientists to return to their research centres. 

Dr Anita Bielańska from the National Science Centre summarised the recently completed support programme organised by her institution and Maciej Zdanowicz from the National Centre for Research and Development raised the issue of helping not only refugees but also those who stayed in Ukraine.

Panel II 'International Research Cooperation in Wartime'

During the second panel, representatives of the Polish and Ukrainian academic communities spoke about international cooperation. The problems of scientific collections in Ukraine were mentioned by dr Taisiia Yurchuk from the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in Kharkiv. The employee of the Institute of Problems of Cryobiology and Cryomedicine talked about the situation in her research centre, where there is still a collection of samples immersed in liquid nitrogen, which is difficult to transport. 

- 'It is very important for us that we come to Poland not as refugees, but as academics. It gives us a sense of dignity. We can do something more than just try to survive,' - said the second representative of the Ukrainian scientific community, dr Sofiia Butko from the National University in Kharkiv. 

Prof. dr hab. Joanna Getka from the University of Warsaw compared her experience in helping scientists from Ukraine to less organised activities such as volunteering. Apart from institutional help, some scientists try to help their Ukrainian friends individually, they look for programmes to which they could apply.

Prof. dr hab. Dariusz Skarżyński from the Institute of Animal Reproduction and Food Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Olsztyn ended the panel with a humorous accent. He suggested that the support programme for Ukraine, similar in form to the 'Beethoven' programme, should be named after some Ukrainian composer. - 'To show the Russians where they belong, I would call this initiative "Prokofiev.' - said prof. Dariusz Skarżyński.

Panel III 'Crisis is opportunity?'

The last panel of the conference aroused a very interesting discussion on priorities in assisting Ukrainian scientists. Dr Iryna Degtyarova from the Polish Rectors Foundation listed the most important challenges faced by the Polish-Ukrainian academic community. She placed the so-called brain drain, i.e. departure of talented people to more developed countries, very low in her classification, whereas prof. Marek Konarzewski from the University of Białystok considers this phenomenon the greatest threat facing Ukrainian science. A completely different perspective was presented by prof. dr hab. Maciej Duszczyk, Vice-Rector for Scientific Affairs of the University of Warsaw, who believes that brain drain does not occur in science, but in medicine and IT. The panellists also discussed funding for aid and where to get it from. Among the proposed sources of financing were the European Union and the World Bank.

'Thanks to this discussion, maybe we know better what to do in the future. I hope that these two days have provided you with food for thought and will serve as a basis for better and more effective assistance to refugees from Ukraine,' - concluded the Director of the National Agency for Academic Exchange, dr Grażyna Żebrowska. In the end, the Director also thanked the representatives of the University of Gdańsk for their help in organizing the event.

First day / photos by Alan Stocki & Marcel Jakubowski
Second day / Photos by Alan Stocki
Marcel Jakubowski / Press Office UG