Vice rector: Tartu University showing it opposes Russian government policy

Aune Valk.
Aune Valk. Source: Andres Tennus

There are plenty of people in Russia who support the war. We cannot be sure that the authorities in Russia and Belarus will not take advantage of the possibility to send to Estonian universities people whose stay can be used for other than free academic pursuits, Aune Valk writes.

The decision of the University of Tartu Senate not to admit new bachelor's and master's students from Russia and Belarus this year has sparked a lot of different reactions. Some people perceive it as an especially discriminative step that robs the two countries' young people, including those opposed to the ruling regime, of the chance to study in the free world.

It is definitely a controversial decision, as we can assume that most of the 70-80 Russian or Belarusian people who come to the university each year are rather pro-Western. That would likely also be the case this year.

It is regrettable that our decision also impacts them. But it is probably not the greatest harm their countries' decision to go to war will do those young people. Is the University of Tartu their only academic prospect? Probably not. In this, the decision perhaps impacts the university more than potential students.

It is important to note that the decision only concerns the 2022/2023 academic year and new students. All University of Tartu students who have been matriculated are members of the UT academic family, their residence permits will remain valid and they will be able to continue their studies. The University of Tartu has 257 Russian and 25 Belarusian citizens among its student family at this time.

I would emphasize once more that the university's decision is not based on nationality but citizenship and place of residence, or state affiliation. It does not concern Russian citizens living in Estonia, those who have another EU country's residence permit or a long-term visa and are already studying in Estonia. Refugees arriving from Russia and Belarus can also apply.

Why was such a decision made? There are two main reasons.

First of all, it is a sanction with which we demonstrate standing against those countries' policy. In a situation where innocent people are dying in Ukraine, the university stands in full solidarity with the Ukrainian academic community and the entire country. We are limiting the access of the citizens of the Russian Federation and Belarus to our education services, just as their access to hundreds of products and services of Western countries and companies is being restricted.

Secondly, we need to consider the fact that the European security situation has thoroughly changed. The university cannot control or consider the mentality of prospective students. At the same time, the university has obligations and bears great responsibility in inviting them.

There is no credible and accurate data on the mentality of Russian residents, while it is clear the country has plenty of those who support this war. We cannot be sure that the authorities in Russia and Belarus will not take advantage of the possibility to send to Estonian universities people whose stay can be used for other than free academic pursuits.

Unfortunately, the war is having an effect in the academic world, just as it is in any other field. Last Friday, the Russian Council of Rectors voiced support for the Russian president and military activity in Ukraine in a document bearing the signatures of around 200 university heads that prompted the European University Association to exclude the signatories from its ranks. The European Union suspended scientific cooperation with Russian universities and research institutions, in addition to pulling corresponding funding.

I am an entrenched supporter of having foreign students and know that contact between people from different nationalities is one of the principal ways of promoting openness and improving international relations. Multicultural identity and being both an Estonian and Ukrainian or Russian can add diversity and color to life. Life is not black and white. Unfortunately, war is.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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