Rectors, directors, scientists, ministers, soldiers, representatives of foreign research centres and students talked about helping Ukraine from all perspectives. The second edition of the Focus on Ukraine conference is behind us, two days full of discussions on how the Polish scientific community can help the struggling and, in the future, victorious Ukraine.
prof. Piotr Stepnowski
- 'Almost a year ago, we organised the first conference, "Solidarity with Ukraine", where we discussed how to help Ukraine wisely. This time we are richer in experience from the past year, but also in experience from this terrible and unjustifiable war,' - opened the event, the Rector of the University of Gdańsk, prof. dr hab. Piotr Stepnowski. - 'However, strengthened, we strive to include Ukraine in European research and higher education areas.'
The Director of the National Academic Exchange Agency, dr Dawid Kostecki, said that the first edition of the 'Solidarity with Ukraine' programme was aimed at individual applicants - students and doctoral students. - 'However, this assistance needs to change,' - he said. Among the new initiatives, the NAWA Director mentioned the 'Solidarity with Ukraine - European Universities' programme designed for institutional assistance and the 'NAWA Intervention Grants'.
The Polish Ministry of Education and Science was represented at the conference by Tomasz Rzymkowski, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Education and Science. - 'This war is a continuation of Russian imperialism, aggression and bestiality - things that contradict the values of our civilisation. One of the greatest fruits of this civilisation is the academic world, universities,' - said the Government Plenipotentiary for the Development and Internationalisation of Education and Science, who also stressed that the aim of Polish aid to Ukraine is not to drain brains but to support the reconstruction of the country's academic community.
A representative of the Deputy Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine for Digital Development, Digital Transformation and Digitisation, Dmytro Zavgorodniya, talked about what kind of assistance Ukrainian universities need. The speech by the member of the Ukrainian government echoed, among other things, the immense gratitude to Poland for the aid but also the enormous approximate cost of rebuilding Ukraine, which amounts to $411 billion, of which $11 billion will be needed for education, including $530 million for higher education.
The first edition of the Solidarity with Ukraine programme was then talked about by its creators and beneficiaries. Magdalena Kachnowicz, Director of NAWA's Office of Student Programmes, presented the intentions behind her institution's staff's creation of the first support programme, to which PLN 13 million was allocated. How SWPS University used part of these funds to provide psychological and legal assistance to Ukrainian refugees was presented by Katarzyna Ksenicz, Deputy Director of the Communication and Service Department, SWPS University of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Ukrainian students and academics presented the effects of Polish assistance. Prof. Taras Hutsol of Polesie National University thanked them for the various aid they had received from Poland - from military equipment to pet food. Almost 100 tonnes of donations arrived in Ukraine from our country.
Ukrainian students in exile presented the perspective of a single beneficiary of the 'Solidarity with Ukraine' programme. - 'When I arrived in Poland, I was utterly lost. I was faced with a lot of questions and very few answers. What helped me out of this situation was the Solidarity with Ukraine project. It motivated me to take action,' - said Mariana Petrivska, studying at the University of Warsaw. - 'In Poland, I decided to major in Ukrainian Studies, even though I studied at a music school at home. I want to know more about my culture, language, and country and spread it to others.'
The first panel, entitled 'International university cooperation as an instrument for counteracting social crises', was chaired by prof. dr hab. Jerzy Lis, Rector of the AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow, who emphasised that we are in the midst of a deep, unusual and violent crisis. Panellists - representatives of the authorities of Polish and Ukrainian universities - talked about coping with this dramatic situation.
- 'War is a geopolitical challenge; it changes the image of the whole world, not just Ukraine. Life, as it was before February 24, will no longer be possible,' - said prof. Volodymyr Bugrov, Rector of the Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv, Vice-Chairman of the Union of Rectors of Higher Education Institutions in Ukraine. The representative of the Ukrainian academic community then cited a conversation with the mayor of the town of Izium, who said that it was not worth rebuilding university buildings in his town because there were no people there.
Piotr Semeniuk, a Ministry of Education and Science representative, also participated in the panel. The Director of the Department of International Cooperation presented data on educational support for the people of Ukraine - 46,000 students and more than 1,100 scientists from Ukraine and PLN 2 billion from the Polish state budget. At the same time, he pointed out that more is needed, and bilateral meetings with the Ukraine government and other countries such as Romania are being held all the time.
- 'Let us come out of this crisis together, building the future,' concluded the panel prof. Jerzy Lis.
Hanna Reczulska, dyrektor Biura Uznawalności NAWA
The next panel dealt with the complicated problem of recognising the education of students in exile from the perspective of war. All participants in the discussion shared situations where refugees brought incomplete documentation. Samir Hećo from the Council of Europe talked about a potential solution in the form of the European Qualification Passport for Refugees (EQPR) and announced the extension of this project to countries that do not have it.
Joanna Nyga from NAWA's Recognition Office presented the statistics of those applying to her unit and the process of implementing the European Qualification Passport for refugees. - 'Before the war, applications for the recognition of Ukrainian documents accounted for 30% of all applications; now, this ratio has increased to almost 55%,' - Joanna Nyga recounted, according to whom the enormity of applications from Ukrainian students is the biggest challenge for her unit.
The panel also included: Monika Czerepak, Deputy Head of the International Cooperation Department, Gdańsk University of Technology and Viktoria Sergienko, Director of the National Academic Mobility Information Centre ENIC Ukraine. Hanna Reczulska, Director of the NAWA Recognition Office, chaired the discussion.
The participants of the next panel provided an international perspective:
- Irina Ferencz, Director of the Association for Academic Cooperation (ACA) (moderator)
- Maija Airas, Head of International Cooperation in Higher Education, Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI)
- Aneta Sergeant, Project Manager Study in Czechia, Czech National Agency for International Education (DZS)
- Gerhard Volz, Director of International Cooperation in Higher Education, Austrian Agency for Education and Internationalisation (OeAD), Austria
- Karla Zimanova, Deputy Director, Slovak Academic Information Agency (SAIA)
Representatives of foreign science-related institutions talked about the situation in their countries. Majia Airas emphasised that her country is less popular with Ukrainians due to the distance and the fact that it borders Russia. At the same time, she mentioned initiatives for those refugees who decided to come, including free courses or scholarships from Erasmus+ and a grant for doctoral students.
Aneta Sergeant pointed out elements of the admission process for new students from Ukraine that were easier for her country. These included the nostrification of diplomas, which is more straightforward than in Poland, for example, due to Czech law. She also discussed the positive feedback from Ukrainian students staying in the Czech Republic.
Two Ukrainian soldiers spoke between the panels and presented a special exhibition, 'Through the War'. Oleksi Oleksiuk, founder of the Safe Country Foundation (Ukraine), explained the importance of mental health and life for Ukrainian soldiers. He talked about drone solutions that would save many lives and a psychological support platform for veterans and active soldiers of the Ukrainian army.
- 'This exhibition aims to show the public, daily crimes committed in Ukraine. The Russian Federation is destroying everything Ukrainian. We do not want to scare anyone, but to show what happens when an aggressor enters a democratic country and wants to impose its rules,' - said Oleksi Oleksiuk.
dr hab. inż. Paweł Śniatała, prof. PP
The introduction to the panel entitled 'European Universities as an example of the internationalisation of higher education: challenges and areas of cooperation' was given by dr hab. inż Paweł Śniatała, prof. PP. The Vice-Rector for International Cooperation of the Poznań University of Technology discussed the EUNICE alliance, in which his university is a project leader.
The discussion was then opened by prof. dr hab. Tomasz Pietrzykowski, Vice-Rector for International and Domestic Cooperation at the University of Silesia in Katowice, Chairman of the NAWA Council. The panel moderator outlined the intention of the European Commission, which wants European universities to be a laboratory of solutions to advance the development of science and education in Europe. At the same time, it is a bridge for Ukrainian universities leading to the European Union.
dr hab. Anna Jurkowska-Zeidler, prof. UG
- 'We are now seeing a qualitative change in terms of internationalisation. We are now talking about more than just the number of international students or agreements. We are looking at us and our campuses differently, where the whole academic community is building them,' - continued the talk UG Vice-Rector for International Cooperation dr hab. Anna Jurkowska-Zeidler, prof. UG. - 'This was also what the 44 rectors of European Universities in Brussels heard, that building a bottom-up alliance is more important than involving rectors.'
Further, panellists talked about initiatives developed within their European Universities, including an app with pedagogical materials for students at all member universities.
Prof. Wiaczesław Truba
Prof. Vyacheslav Truba, Rector of Ilia Mechnikov National University in Odessa, talked about his university's challenges, including power cuts, for several days. During the panel, the need for diversity among tools to support Ukrainian universities resounded, although the panellists still saw the greatest hopes and potential in European Universities.
The last panel of the first day dealt with Ukraine's digital future. The discussion was chaired by Waldemar Siwiński, founder and creator of the Educational Foundation 'Perspektywy', who pointed out that precisely in the case of digital development, it is not only Poland that can help Ukraine but also Ukraine that can help Poland. Before the war, our eastern neighbours were doing better in many areas of digitisation.
Dr Bianka Siwińska
Prof. Paweł Śniatała emphasised the risks of dynamic digitalisation, including the need for a humanistic approach to any change to make innovations accessible to everyone. Dr Bianka Siwińska, President of the Perspektywy Foundation, talked about her institution's unique IT training initiative, which will retrain 30,000 Ukrainian women in Poland.
Grzegorz Robak, Director of the Centre for International Exchange from the Warsaw University of Technology, returned to the topic of European Universities and presented the ENHANCE consortium initiative. 10 member technical universities and two Ukrainian partners have created a programme of remote language tandems, with more than 1,500 participants, including more than 100 from Ukraine.
Kateryna Suprun, Director of the Expert Group on Digital Transformation in Education and Science from the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, spoke about the initiatives that came out of Ukraine, including several new resources that the Ukrainian education system has received free of charge.
- 'There are almost 0.25 million students from Ukraine in the Polish education system. This means that our societies are intertwined. A structure of interweaving people, interests, emotions, future of Poles and Ukrainians has been created. Therefore, the period of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine is coming to an end, and we are beginning to build a common future for Poland and Ukraine,' - concluded the panel, thus the first day of the conference, Waldemar Siwiński.
After a day of discussions and speeches, the conference participants attended a gala dinner, which the University of Gdańsk Choir entertained.
Oleksandr Plodystyi, Consul General of Ukraine in the Republic of Poland
- 'Life goes on, and so does war, unfortunately. For this year, 59 Ukrainian universities have been affected by the war and partially destroyed. Many Ukrainian students and scientists do not have the opportunity to work and study,' - opened the second day of the conference Oleksandr Plodystyi, Consul General of Ukraine in Poland. - 'Ukrainian education needs your help. I would like this not to be the case, but unfortunately, I have to say it: we still need it.'
A potential source of aid for Ukraine from the United States was presented by dr Emily Borzcik, Regional Director of the Europe Scholar Rescue Fund at the Institute of International Education (IIE). Scholarships from the New York-based foundation are intended for scholars in exile or danger.
The next speaker was dr Maija M. Kukla, Programme Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The US scientist presented the research potential of her institution and described in detail the paths by which her independent government agency would be able to establish cooperation with Ukrainian research centres.
dr. inż. Marcin Witkowski
Participants in the first panel on the second day of the conference discussed support for refugees that local governments can provide in cooperation with universities. Representatives of Lublin, Wrocław and Poznań participated in a discussion moderated by dr inż. Marcin Witkowski of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań.
- 'Poznań may have seemed an unobvious place of choice for refugees from Ukraine. However, it turned out that a lot of them arrived there. For some, Poznań was a destination and a transit place for others. Dozens of pesel numbers were issued. We now estimate that there are about 70,000 foreigners from Ukraine in Poznań out of 90,000 foreigners,' - shared Anna Wawdysz, Deputy Director of the City Development and International Cooperation Department at Poznań City Hall.
In the case of Wrocław, the number of refugees from Ukraine amounted to 200 thousand people, of which 150 thousand stayed in the city, as reported by Mirosław Lebiedź, manager of the Study in Wroclaw project, Wrocław Agglomeration Development Agency.
Participants also discussed the twin cities initiative, which, while not very binding before the war, proved to be an effective channel for cooperation during the crisis.
The next panel on support for students through academic initiatives was chaired by dr Zofia Sawicka, Deputy Director of NAWA.
Yevheniia Polishchuk, Member of the Council of Young Scientists at the Ministry of Education and Science in Ukraine, presented data on young Ukrainian scientists working abroad, who account for one-third of all Ukrainian researchers in exile.
Panellists talked about cooperation with Ukrainian scientists within their organisations. Aleksandra Lewandowska from the National Representation of Doctoral Students mentioned fundraising and a summer school for young scientists. And the President of the Council of Young Scientists, dr Igor Kilanowski, shared his experience helping Ukrainian scientists and their children as part of his activities at Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw.
During the final panel, representatives of organisations that subsidise science in Poland spoke:
- Agnieszka Ratajczak, Director of the International Cooperation Office, National Centre for Research and Development
- dr Andrzej Dybczyński, President of the Łukasiewicz Research Network (online)
- prof. dr hab. Maciej Żylicz, President of the Management Board of the Foundation for Polish Science
- prof. dr hab. Jerzy Duszyński, Advisor to the President of the Polish Academy of Sciences
- dr Tomasz Szumełda, Coordinator of Disciplines in the Division of Science and Technology, National Centre of Science
- dr Monika Pobiega, Coordinator of Disciplines in the Division of Life Sciences, National Centre of Science
The discussion was moderated by dr Dawid Kostecki, Director of NAWA.
Agnieszka Ratajczak described how her institution used funding from the POWER programme to allow Polish universities to include Ukrainian scientists in ongoing projects.
- 'We focused on creating our programme with our, therefore non-public, money, which involved engaging academics from Ukraine in bilateral agenda in the humanities and social sciences. Today marks the end of the third call for this programme,' said prof. Maciej Żylicz.
Each of the panellists talked about how their organisation had managed to help Ukrainian researchers through, among other things, initiatives funded by its resources, external funding or by establishing cooperation with another institution. Finally, the panellists assured that the assistance to Ukraine from their side will not stop. They gave ideas for future projects, including, among others, return grants for Ukrainian researchers residing in another country.
- 'We said today what has been done and what we want to see happening. I think that each of our speeches and panels was accompanied by a justified hope that soon we will be talking about a free and independent Ukraine,' - said at the end of the second edition of the Focus on Ukraine conference by the Rector of UG, prof. Piotr Stepnowski.