How to help academics in the Ukraine right now

“We need one Computer Science department that is able to program an app that can link the needs of the academics with the offers on European side”

As someone working in internationalisation of higher education and teaching international relations, I have spent quite some time in the last days how we in our specific area might be able to help the Ukraine – besides what we all do: donations, food, psychological support. And here is a very practical idea what we in higher education can do to help Ukrainian academics, writes Uwe Brandenburg, managing partner and founder of the Global Impact Institute in Prague.

The current situation is that practically every university publishes their support for Ukrainian students and academics on their website, very often in the form of free accommodation and psychological support. Even individual departments and research groups offer quite specific options for expert scientists. These efforts are great but they also show how much individual effort is not only invested on the side of the universities but also on the side of Ukrainian academics. We know, that for now only female academics could leave the country, most likely those with children will want to go. But how can an individual academic find a place? They would have to research all individual websites, tweets and posts. This is on both ends is highly inefficient. And there would be a rather efficient way to do it.

Step 1: the National Erasmus Agencies are already to my knowledge in all European countries already coordinating information with the universities in their respective country. For this initiative, each university would have to report to the NA how many places in which of the main academic categories according to Erasmus (e.g. engineering, social sciences) a university would be able to provide (if possible including accommodation). The NA would collect this information, probably through the international credit mobility track in the Mobility Tool.

Step 2: we need one Computer Science department that is able to program an app that can link the needs of the academics with the offers on European side. This App needs to link to a php or similar database that is fed through the Mobility Tool via the NA with the available slots and (where necessary) the respective academic fields. The User Interface of the App is exclusively for the Ukrainian academics who put in very simple information: e.g. name, email (best their university email), university affiliation, subject specialisation (via drop down menu which mirrors the broad categories that the NAs use), child(ren).

Step 3: The App then transfers the info to the database. In order to allow for an equal distribution across countries, a simple algorithm could channel the requests to the respective NA. So an NA then gets say 500 requests across their offered slots. And they can then quickly distribute them across the available slots.

Step 4: the academic is informed which university in which country will take them. It would be additionally extremely useful if the coordination of transportation would then be delegated to one of the large European NGOs who are already active, maybe the Red Cross.

Then the universities and the NA would still have some work to receive the academics then, but that is I think manageable. For the Ukrainian academic, they would only have to work with one tool, provide their info once and then wait for their match. For the universities, they would provide information once (or update them) and then receive exact information on the concrete academics coming. And for the NAs, they would not have to try to deal with dozens of initiatives but just one and that one even coordinated across all NAs.

This seems to me a very practical and especially highly efficient method, but time is of the essence.

In order to get a substantial number (currently there are 128,000 academics in the Ukraine, not sure what the percentage of female academics is who could leave), we need extra funding. So my plea would be to the European Commission DG EAC to provide an extra budget of €5 million earmarked for this activity within the international credit mobility so that no other planned activities have to be stopped. It would be a bit cynical to assume that such work for a substantial amount of people can be done without any extra funding. Moreover, these academics would come via the international credit mobility, i.e. as professionals and not refugees, and therefore should receive a monthly grant since they will work here. The grant can be limited to three months with options of extension depending on the situation in Ukraine.

What does it need now? I would need

  • one (!) Computer Science Department willing to programme such an app
  • declaration from NAs to be willing to coordinate national efforts.

It would be a very concrete, practical way to help the Ukrainian academics right now, because time is of the essence.

 About the author:  Uwe Brandenburg, PhD is Managing Partner and Founder of the Global Impact Institute in Prague, Czech Republic. He is also visiting professor for international relations at the ESCP Business School on their Campus in Berlin. Uwe publishes widely on internationalisation and impact and has a current focus on Internationalisation in Higher Education for Society.