Questions and answers on the war in Ukraine

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the war raging in different parts of the country is causing a humanitarian disaster, with thousands of dead and injured people, millions of refugees and a society partly in ruins. Infrastructure, food supplies, hospitals, schools and much else have either completely collapsed or are severely struggling.

The response from the international community has been overwhelming, and many people are coming forward to offer their help and support, as Karolinska Institutet itself is experiencing. As a medical university, KI is naturally committed to providing support and help in whatever way we can. At the same time, it should be stressed that in some areas there are actors who are better equipped to organise different forms of engagement. Please note that the rapidly developing situation can affect the relevance of some of the following questions and answers. Our aim is to keep them continually updated. 

Can KI receive Ukrainian refugee researchers and students?

KI’s aim and will is to do what we can to support researchers and students fleeing the war. As a public authority there’s a limit to what we can do by way of offering places as salaried employees or students on our programmes. The rules say that this can only be done in exceptional cases, such as when external financing is available from a donor or via a scholarship. Discussions are underway with colleagues at other universities, the relevant authorities and politicians about introducing temporary rules to make it easier for us to provide places for researchers and students.  

KI has recently also appointed a special resource team to look into these matters.

Can we offer refugee researchers temporary employment at KI so that they can carry on their research and make a living?

There have been occasions when KI has been able to offer refugee researchers temporary employment or a scholarship, but there were special circumstances for this regarding financing and a researcher having a specific skill that was in demand at KI.  

Can an individual research group offer a place to a Ukrainian colleague with whom they’ve collaborated earlier?

This is hard to give a general answer to. KI must employ people on the basis of the existing regulatory framework. This said, the aim should be to try to find a viable solution. If such a question arises, it must be discussed in the first instance with the relevant head of department, who must then decide whether or not to take it up with the university management. Generally speaking, some basic criteria must be met – e.g. that external financing is available, that there is a match between the researcher’s competence and the project, and that all relevant permits and approvals are in place for the researcher to work in Sweden.  

Can KI offer refugee medical students a place on a programme?

KI is unable to circumvent the admission rules set out in the Higher Education Ordinance, so we have to refer Ukrainian students to the regular admissions process. Most first and second-cycle courses and the medical programme are held only in Swedish, although there are some courses in English.  

Given the current situation, KI’s view is that the possibility for making exceptions needs to be reviewed by the relevant authorities and handled at the political level, too. These exceptions must, in that case, be available to the entire sector.

Can KI’s CPD/contract education activities arrange a special course for refugee students who are studying medical subjects?

KI can arrange contract courses in line with the Ordinance on Contract Education at Higher Education Institutions. If KI was thus tasked by the Public Employment Service (for instance), it would be able to run different kinds of educational activity.

Can KI offer accommodation in the student and researcher apartments it has at its disposal through KI Housing AB?

As things look right now, all such accommodation is being rented out. This is another matter that the newly appointed resource team will be looking more closely at (e.g. the legal opportunities for KI to offer apartments to refugees).

Has it been decided that the students will be exempted from paying fees on account of the EU’s Temporary Protection Directive? When will Sweden decide on its implementation and how will these students be admitted if and when the decision is made?

Yes, a student fleeing the war in Ukraine will be exempt from paying fees when receiving a temporary residence permit from the Swedish Migration Agency in line with the Directive. According to the Ordinance on Tuition Fees (2010:543) no fees will be charged to third-country citizens who have been granted temporary residence in Sweden for reasons other than studying.

A decision on implementation has already been made in Sweden and the Migration Agency is currently (mid-March 2022) putting the decision into action. According to the Migration Agency website (10 March 2022) once someone has applied to the Agency for a residence permit under the terms of the Temporary Protection Directive, it will take a few days for the application to be processed and the permit to be granted.

These students will be admitted in accordance with the normal procedure that applies to all other students.

What about Ukrainian students already completing their studies at a university in Sweden? Will they also be exempt from paying fees?

For a Ukrainian citizen to be exempt from paying fees, he or she needs to have been granted a temporary residence permit by the Migration Agency under the Temporary Protection Directive. The Migration Agency writes the following to asylum seekers (10 March 2022): “To be covered by the Directive, you must have left the country on 24 February or later.” This is likely to mean that existing Ukrainian students in Sweden are not covered by the Directive. If such a student applies for asylum in Sweden, the situation might be different but this has not yet been put to the test.

How is the government’s call to break off academic collaborations with Russia/Belarus to be interpreted in practice?

KI has interpreted it to mean that the university-wide agreements or the equivalent that KI has with Russian/Belarusian state-run institutions are to be terminated or suspended. One such agreement has so far been identified and terminated. KI’s heads of department will be seeing of there are other such agreements at departmental level.

Will KI exclude Russian students from their education?

No, the government’s call to terminate university-wide agreements or collaborations with Russian/Belarusian institutions does not apply to individuals. KI protects the right of all students to receive an education, including those from Russia/Belarus and does not tolerate discrimination or offensive behaviour on grounds of nationality.  

What about personal collaborations with researchers from Russian/Belarusian state-run institutions?

This must be judged on a case-by-case basis. KI basically welcomes collaborations between researchers on the grounds that it benefits academic freedom, democracy and the ability for individual researchers in authoritarian states to operate freely. At the same time we must be vigilant to make sure that the research being done is not used in a morally or ethically dubious or improper way, such as to bolster an authoritarian regime or to support military escalation and aggression.

How can we know that KI’s research is not being used by, for example, the Russian military or Russian state? 

Here, the researchers at KI taking part in a study with Russian/Belarusian links must be observant and assess things from the information available and after reasonable analysis. If there’s any doubt or if something’s not clear, they should contact their head of department. They can also seek support and advice if necessary from other authorities via the university management.

Can KI arrange support activities for universities, researchers and students in Ukraine?

We operate in part through direct contact with universities in Ukraine and in part via other actors, such as the EU and WHO. KI’s ability to initiate or arrange support activities is limited by our role as a public authority, which confines our activities to our government assignment. There are also explicit rules for how public money must (and must not) be used. On the other hand, of course, individual KI employees or students can take whatever private initiative they like.

Is there anything KI can do for researchers and students who are currently outside Ukraine, but not in Sweden?

KI has intensified its relations with the universities with which we have agreements or collaborations and which are located in one of these countries. This provides us with information about what’s happening close to the war and enables us to make better assessments of what the consequences can be for Swedish universities, too, later. We’re also discussing with these overseas universities the need for collegial support, e.g. by temporarily reinforcing their teaching resources. One such current example (mid-March) is that KI, via our Centre for Health Crises and the WHO (and others) will be running a course on trauma care in Moldova. One of many conditions for such initiatives is that they do not effect normal activities.

How can KI combat increasing polarisation and the risk of discrimination on its campuses?

This is something that’s up to all of us. KI has zero tolerance of discrimination and works actively on issues relating to equal opportunities. It is vital that we act immediately when we see signs that people on KI’s campuses are being mistreated, bullied or otherwise harassed due to their ethnicity. KI’s view is unequivocal: the Russian invasion of Ukraine is based on decisions taken by the Kremlin and may on no account excuse the victimisation of people from or with links to Russia or Belarus.    

Can KI do anything as part of the EU or with an international academic organisation?

KI is in continual dialogue with different actors in the EU, the WHO and non-profit organisations such as Scholars at Risk (SAR) and Doctors Without Borders. KI is now working with SAR via the Development Office to finds means to finance a position/scholarship at KI for researchers fleeing the war. There are also other initiatives to do the same at other Swedish universities (e.g. from the Wallenberg foundations (KAW) and the Foundation for Strategic Research).

How far can KI’s engagement go?

KI can, in the first instance, act within its core areas as a state university: education, research and outreach. Within this framework are certain opportunities to prioritise and allocate as and when necessary – as long as they comply with the prevailing laws and regulations. If KI gains access to future external financing and if these resources can be used internally without it affecting ordinary activities, KI can, in certain circumstances, engage proactively for Ukraine and victims of the war. However, it is mainly the activities of individual researchers, students and employees that can create more far-reaching and long-term support. KI’s responsibility to safeguard our ordinary activities must always take priority.      

Should we act to promote greater consistency amongst Swedish universities (or the medical faculties) when it comes to statements of support, policies, practical action, common solutions for receiving refugee students and researchers, etc?  

Many things are taking place in parallel here, and KI is taking part in all of them in one way or another. KI’s president and university management are in continual dialogue with the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF), amongst others, about this. We are also in close contact with the management of Sweden’s other medical faculties and have raised the issue of Ukraine in our capacity as chair of the Stockholm trio alliance (KI, KTH and Stockholm University).

Is KI in contact with Ukrainian universities?

Yes, we’re in regular contact with Bogomolets National Medical University in Kiev (president to president), which gives us a first-hand account of the situation and its developments. Going by the most recent conversation, the situation is serious and a great many staff and students have fled from the capital, and much of the university’s ordinary business has ceased (mid-March 2022). Discussions are underway about providing support through “telemedicine”.

What role does KI’s Centre for Health Crises have in the war?

The normal role of the centre is to hone and bolster KI’s ability to deal with health threats. The idea is to provide help to society in crisis through multidisciplinary research, education and expertise on different health threat areas. The Centre helps to strengthen regional, national and global preparedness for acute health crises and pandemics. 

In the case of Ukraine, the Centre bases its strategy on local needs as well as KI’s mandate and expertise. The situation has changed dramatically and the Centre’s highly flexible approach makes sure that its work remains relevant and actually benefits people affected by the crisis. Read more about the Centre for Health Crises’ current activities here.

Why has KI not raised the Ukrainian flag on its campuses?

The matter has been discussed by the university management and it has been decided that to do so would be inappropriate for several reasons. For instance, it would create a precedent that could be difficult to handle. On what other occasions, wars or conflicts will we raise a national flag? Where do we draw the line? Geographically/according to the proximity principle? How serous the war is? The kind of civilian abuses? We argue that there are other ways to protest against unjust wars and conflicts, such as by issuing public statements.  

What is KI’s view on individual students, researchers or employees wanting to travel to Ukraine or a neighbouring country to help out?

This is nothing that KI can or should express an opinion on, as long as the individual in question complies with the regulations pertaining to the student-university or employee-employer relationship. It’s also important to know that KI as a university and public authority cannot take responsibility for what an employee or student does in his or her free time. If, on the other hand, someone is officially representing KI, the ordinary rules of employer-responsibility apply, as well as the regulations relating to overseas deployment or official travel outside Sweden.

Who can students or staff turn to if they’re worried or anxious about the situation in Ukraine?

As regards this and similar questions, see the information for staff and students concerning the war in Ukraine.

Anna Svensson