Digital Universities UK: cut ties with Russian universities, says UK government minister

Institutions cannot ‘in good conscience’ partner with Russian counterparts while Ukraine war continues, says Chris Philp

March 15, 2022
Chris Philp
Source: Damien Davis

No university can “in good conscience” continue to collaborate with Russian institutions because of the war in Ukraine, a UK government minister has said.

Chris Philp, the minister for technology and the digital economy, called on universities to sever ties in response to the invasion that has so far left at least 636 civilians dead.

Speaking at Times Higher Education’s Digital Universities Week event, the Croydon South MP accused Russia of “war crimes” and said the Kremlin had “violated the freedom and sovereignty of a neighbouring country in the most outrageous way”.

“They are committing human rights abuses and what we think are war crimes as we speak,” he told the event.

“Just this morning, they fired on buses that were taking civilians out of a besieged city – deliberately fired on civilians…We think those amount to war crimes.”

Asked what approach universities should take to working with Russia in light of the situation, Mr Philp said: “I don’t see how anyone in good conscience can collaborate with Russian universities, particularly where they have connections to the state.”

Countries such as Germany and the Netherlands swiftly halted ties with Russian universities after the invasion began. The UK is reviewing its research links with institutions in the country, but it is yet to take significant steps towards a sector-wide boycott. The main sector funder, UK Research and Innovation, has frozen all payments to grants involving scientists in Russia while it awaits further government advice, and some institutions have said that they are reviewing their collaborations.

Mr Philp also warned that universities should be “very mindful” of China because “they have a very clear strategy of seeking to acquire critical intellectual property”.

“We need to be very mindful of that risk, particularly in areas of commercial sensitivity where there is deep IP which the Chinese state may be seeking to acquire,” he said.

“I know it is tempting because they bring money. I know there is an instinct of openness in higher education. You want to forget about geopolitics and just collaborate openly, but I think that is not how states like China view higher education and deep research.

“They view it as a geopolitical tool, and the fact is we need to be cognisant of that and respond appropriately to it.”

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