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After canceling Russia, academics weigh consequences – POLITICO

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“Explain how you would effectively punish Russia for war crimes without endangering vital scientific collaboration.”

It’s the tricky exam question facing European universities, as they contemplate life after the Kremlin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and wrestle with the implications of severing institutional ties with Russia. .

While attention in the early days of the war focused on rash decisions like the cancellation – before reinstating – of a course on iconic Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the European higher education sector is now faced with deeper problems of collaboration with the Russian university. .

On the one hand, the war is likely to cause a brain drain of Russian academics, who are likely to be tempted abroad by higher salaries and freedom in their research. But among those who remain – and some of their Western counterparts – there is regret for missed opportunities, particularly in climate research.

Some industry figures foresee scientific consequences as the sector imposes its own version of sanctions – cancellation of academic conferences, abandonment of joint research projects and freezing of cross-border funding – on Russian institutions. Others somberly warn of “cancellation culture” and lost opportunities.

Russia is important in areas such as climate and Arctic research and severing ties “will set back global scientific progress”, said David Matthews, international editor of the Science Business research forum.

“But nevertheless, I think it’s more important to isolate Russia,” he said.

One area that will be particularly affected is permafrost research.

According to Ted Schuur, ecologist and permafrost expert at Northern Arizona University, 50-60% of the world’s permafrost is found in Russia, which is also home to much of the world’s expertise on the particular type of subsoil that remains. permanently frozen.

When it thaws, permafrost releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Even if the world sticks to an optimistic trajectory of keeping global warming to 2C, Schuur says, that means it will add up to 20% more carbon or heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere, which makes collaboration on the issue vital.

“Russian science has a rich history and [a lot of] current activity in permafrost research,” he said. “Cutting these ties only diminishes the overall scientific effort on permafrost.”

Last month, the EU announced it was halting all ongoing funding to Russian public bodies, immediately ending 56 Russia-EU academic research projects and grants, and ending all collaboration until further notice.

And 15 of the world’s largest academic publishers also said they would stop selling services – including all journals and databases – to Russia, excluding their scientists from 97.5% of subscription science products.

At the Free University of Berlin, director of international affairs Herbert Grieshop canceled dual degree programs with Russian partners, cutting income by up to €50,000 per year. In 2019, institutional projects co-financed by Russia and Germany amounted to 36.3 million euros, mostly in the field of science. The UK has also frozen research grants worth tens of millions of euros. More than half of the articles co-authored by Russians are with EU scholars, many with Germans.

“What’s happened in terms of the links between the Russian and European research community, it’s quite dramatic,” Matthews said.

But not everyone was impressed by the abrupt end to joint academic posts and visiting professor exchanges.

Cambridge scholar Demetrius Floudas, assistant professor at Immanuel Kant University in Kaliningrad, says he used to travel up to four times a year to teach law in the Russian enclave.

“I’m really disappointed and upset,” he said. “For both parties, this is going to be detrimental; there had been growing ties. Floudas estimates that more than 1,000 European academics are in a similar position.

It is also important that the reaction against Russia does not go too far and that Russian academics in Europe are protected, warned Michael Gaebel, director of the European University Association (EUA) which represents more than 800 universities.

He denounced, in particular, the Dostoyevsky ban widely rejected by the Milan university – and cited it as an example that institutions should avoid following.

“Hopefully this is the last cycle of cancel culture,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense and that’s exactly what we don’t want.”

But ultimately, as boffins argue over where precisely the lines should be drawn, the West’s political goal of crippling Russia in retaliation for its murderous assault on Ukraine is likely to succeed in the realm of Higher Education.

“For Russia, I think the longer-term outcome will potentially be a large emigration of scientists,” said Matthews, the publisher. “For their economic and technological advantage, it will be a really major long-term success.”

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