In response to the war that is being fought in Ukraine today, Polish society has shown tremendous support for the Ukrainians in many fields. The academic community was no different. To this end, the 'Solidarity with Ukraine' programme was designed, prepared as a government initiative by the National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA) with aim to help students and doctoral students – war refugees from Ukraine. Now the time has come for the next step. That is why support has been prepared in cooperation with Polish universities participating in European universities consortia. Let's take it one step at a time, though.

The 'Solidarity with Ukraine' programme, which was mentioned on several occasions by, among others, the Ukrainian Minister of Education and Science, Serhiy Shkarlet, and which, as part of a government initiative, was prepared by NAWA, was intended to ensure continuity of education for students and doctoral students who arrived in Poland after 24 February as war refugees and who were deprived of the possibility of studying or carrying out scientific work in their own country. In the course of extensive consultations, a programme was developed for universities supervised by the Ministry of Education and Science or the Ministry of Health, which wanted to enable students and doctoral students to continue their studies free of charge, to prepare their doctoral dissertations or to undergo other forms of education (i.e. language or preparatory courses, for example). This is how the ‘Solidarity with Ukraine’ programme was born.
‘With a feeling of responsibility and solidarity with the Ukrainian people, not only NAWA, but the entire academic and scientific community in Poland wanted to react. And the reaction was almost instantaneous. We knew that we had to mobilise assistance for the students and doctoral students coming to us. It was also important for our Agency, however, to support and relieve the burden on Polish universities, which decided to provide the opportunity for students and doctoral students coming to Poland to continue their studies’, explains Dr Dawid Kostecki, Director of NAWA.

The Needs Were Enormous

Applications for funding under the Solidarity with Ukraine programme were submitted by 98 institutions (universities and research institutes), and all of them received funding. The amount of funding awarded was over PLN 23.3 million (including entities supervised by the Ministry of Health ‒ over PLN 4.28 million, and entities supervised by the Ministry of Education and Science ‒ over PLN 19 million). The magnitude of needs was enormous, as best demonstrated by the fact the total amount requested in the applications was over PLN 70 million.
It is worth noting that Polish universities have provided tremendous support so far. Examples of the assistance that universities, technical universities, colleges or research institutes have provided to their Ukrainian counterparts are too many to count. The University of Warsaw has provided space on its servers for data storage or for remote learning. The Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) has granted scholarships to enable Ukrainian scholars to work at its institutes, but without giving up their Ukrainian affiliation. Importantly, this is in line with the Ukrainian side's suggestion, as scientists there are already concerned about a generational gap. PAN's assistance is intended to provide an opportunity to create small research groups which may include both Ukrainian and Polish researchers. These groups will be minicentres of excellence that will enable Ukrainian researchers ‒ when the war ends ‒ to return quickly to Ukraine. Another interesting example of assistance considered by Polish universities was the possibility of awarding dual degrees or online teaching with the practical or laboratory part taking place at Polish universities.

‘One extremely important thing for both Polish and Ukrainian side is to prevent the “brain drain” while providing support. Indeed, the aim of Polish actions should not be to take over the most talented students or scientists. Poland wants to provide decent conditions for research during the war so that they can return and rebuild a free Ukraine after the hostilities cease. All our activities are geared towards preserving the possibility of building Ukrainian elites, but also contributing to building a world based on a vision of sustainable development’, points out Dr Dawid Kostecki, Director of NAWA.

Ultimately, 1,502 Ukrainians took part in various forms of education (such as preparatory courses or degree courses) at universities under the supervision of the Ministry of Education and Science, and 159 at universities under the supervision of the Ministry of Health. As for the number of doctoral students, there were 28 at universities under the supervision of the MoE.

‘We took part in the programme because many of our university's students come from Ukraine and it was only natural that we wanted to help refugees from their country. We believe that our university has the necessary competences and infrastructure needed to deal with people from Ukraine on a daily basis. We also have the experience we gained previously, e.g. while running language courses for people from Ukraine’, explains Dominika Bartoszewicz, deputy director of the Project Office at the Vistula Group of Universities. ‘Two months after completion of the programme, we can say that it was a fantastic adventure for the students and also for the lecturers teaching the Ukrainian groups. We are convinced that the programme was conducted efficiently and professionally both on the part of NAWA and our university. Based on the information we have, there was intensive communication between the participants and the lecturers during the course via instant messaging and social media’, he adds.

The largest group of students and doctoral students from Ukraine was admitted by: the Higher School of Economics and Innovation in Lublin, Warsaw University of Technology, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Jagiellonian University, Vistula University of Finance and Business, SWPS University of Humanities and Social Sciences based in Warsaw, the Higher School of Banking based in Gdańsk and the Jan Długosz University of Humanities and Sciences in Częstochowa.

As far as medical universities are concerned, the largest number of students and doctoral students were hosted by Warsaw Medical University and the Medical University of Lublin.

Challenges for the Future

It is worth noting, however, that the National Agency for Academic Exchange wants not only to act on an ad hoc basis, but also to discuss ideas and expectations for the future. Hence the project to support cooperation with Ukrainian partners of Polish universities participating in European universities consortia, i.e. international partnerships of universities that are expected to be 'universities of the future'. Importantly, a European University project must include a minimum of three higher education institutions from at least three EU member states or other countries participating in the programme. They are intended, among other things, to enable students to obtain degrees by combining studies in several EU countries, to contribute to development of international competitiveness of European universities, to promote the exchange of experience between the best higher education institutions on the continent and to promote innovative solutions in this field.

As for supporting the activities for the benefit of Ukraine, we are talking about support in the order of PLN 18 million, which will be divided among the 18 Polish universities participating in the above-mentioned networks. These are:
1. University of Warsaw
2. Jagiellonian University in Kraków
3. University of Gdańsk
4. Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań
5. University of Opole
6. Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń
7. Stanisław Staszic University of Science and Technology in Kraków
8. Poznań University of Technology
9. Silesian University of Technology
10. Warsaw University of Technology
11. University of Silesia in Katowice
12. Warsaw University of Life Sciences
13. Warsaw School of Economics
14. Technical University of Łódź
15. Technical University of Koszalin
16. Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences
17. University of Wrocław
18. Wrocław University of Technology
The aim of the assignment is to continue support for representatives of the Ukrainian academic community, by providing financial support to universities designated and supervised by the Minister, selected through competitions announced by the European Commission and registered in alliances of European Universities, cooperating with a partner university or universities from Ukraine.
The money can be used for activities such as:
1. Organisation of exchanges of students, doctoral students and staff of the institutions;
2. Participation in study visits, internships, summer/winter schools, seminars, workshops, training courses or intensive courses;
3. Active participation in conferences;
4. Development of state-of-the-art teaching materials;
5. Development or preparation of new and innovative learning tools and methods;
6. Development of a quality management system for enhancing the quality of education and research;
7. Carrying out joint research and development work;
8. Preparation of joint scientific publications;
9. Networking and establishing cooperation between Ukrainian universities and members of alliances.

It is worth mentioning that the disbursement of funds to the universities will be launched even this year.

‘The Ukrainian science community and universities have a chance to come out of this war stronger, integrated into the European research space, the European higher education area, and the global academic ecosystem; for Poland, it is virtually a historic opportunity to help with that. We do intend to take advantage of this opportunity’, adds Dr Dawid Kostecki, Director of NAWA.

For the next year, the National Agency for Academic Exchange has planned a conference entitled 'Focus on Ukraine' to be held in April at the University of Gdańsk. The topic will not only be a summary of activities to date, but above all, a discussion of the future of tertiary education in Ukraine and models for cooperation between Poland and Ukraine in this area. ©℗