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French university chiefs cut ties with Russian peers


Russian rectors’ support for Ukraine invasion draws withering response

France Universités, the association of French university presidents, has suspended ties with its Russian equivalent.

The move follows a 4 March statement from the Union of Rectors of Russia, which described the decision by Russian president Vladmimir Putin to invade Ukraine as a “necessary” one that was “perhaps the most difficult decision of his life”.

In a statement published in both French and Russian on its website, France Universités—formerly the Conference of University Presidents—wrote of its “amazement” at the position taken by the Russian university rectors association.

“The war led by Russia in Ukraine obliges the national and international university community to reiterate its condemnation of this aggression, which translates into unacceptable attacks against the civilian population and the deliberate bombing of public buildings, hospitals, student residences, or teaching and research facilities,” it said. As a result, the memorandum of understanding France Universités signed in 2013 with the Union of Rectors of Russia, would be put in abeyance until further notice, it said.

Universities’ core values

France Universités acknowledged that the Russian rectors’ statement may have been written “under pressure from the Russian authorities”, but that in any case it contravened the core values of European universities.

France Universités called on French institutions to halt any institutional cooperation with the Russian universities whose rectors were signatories to the 4 March statement, but it recommended maintaining interpersonal relations with individual academics.

It also called on the French government to simplify the procedures and increase resources of the Pause programme, which offers co-financing for French institutions, schools and research organisations that wish to accommodate researchers who are in danger. The government has already opened a special call for Ukrainian scientists under this scheme.

In its original statement, the Union of Rectors of Russia said supporting the state in a conflict was a duty for universities. “It is important not to forget our fundamental duty, which is to teach our students to be patriotic and to help their homeland,” the statement read.