Ukrainian politician Inna Sovsun attends UC Berkeley event and discusses wartime higher education

Inna Sovsun, Member of Ukrainian Parliament and former First Deputy Minister of Education and Science, came to UC Berkeley on Thursday to discuss the state of higher education in Ukraine with John Douglass, senior fellow at the Center for Higher Education Studies.

Sovsun detailed the damage Russian forces have done to educational institutions since the invasion began in February. She noted that 2,739 places of learning have been damaged, of which 333 are completely destroyed.

As a result, many universities in the occupied territories have been relocated, with the majority reopening, according to Sovsun.

“People ask me, ‘Do you study?’ (and) ‘Are there any studies going on?’ In fact, there are. The majority of universities reopened for online classes at the end of March,” Sovsun said at the event. “It was weird, but somehow I could see the logic behind it because people needed a sense of normalcy.”

Despite this, Sovsun noted a “brain drain” problem due to many professors and students leaving the country or devoting their efforts to the war.

Sovsun said that during the event, many female teachers left the country, while many men joined because they are not allowed to leave. She added that this is a complex issue from a “feminist” perspective.

There is also the question of teachers who remained in the occupied territories and who may have cooperated with Russian forces, according to Sovsun. During the event, she said it was something that could come to light if the Russians withdrew from Kherson.

Sovsun noted that the “brain drain” also applies to students. She noted issues regarding students who are currently studying outside Ukraine without indicating whether they will return, at the meeting. Sovsun added that the European Union helps Ukrainian refugees with their education, but does not help those who remain.

To address this, Sovsun suggested introducing more dual degree programs between Ukrainian and international universities.

Sovsun noted that it would also be useful to establish discussion platforms and conferences where Ukrainians and Americans can exchange ideas and collaboratively solve problems such as the reintegration of veterans.

Regarding cooperation between Russian and Ukrainian academic institutions, Sovsun said it is not open to this possibility at the moment.

She added that many do not realize how some in Russia have been influenced by a “hate virus”, adding that she has read many violent comments on social media.

“There should be some sort of collective responsibility, even though it may seem wrong,” Sovsun said at the event. “We bear collective responsibility. My son goes to the air raid shelter three times a day. Did he do anything to deserve this?

Despite its negative effects, the war could allow universities to rebuild and restructure, according to Sovsun.

Sovsun added that she is “rather critical” of Ukraine’s higher education system, with its alleged corruption issues and relics of Soviet influence.

“As terrible as this war is, there may in fact be an opening to promote more reforms within Ukrainian universities,” Sovsun said at the meeting. “I try to see positive opportunities here in terms of institutions that actually understand what their mission is.”

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