Russia’s attack against Ukraine has led to an exceptionally widespread crisis on independent academic research in Europe. Human Rights Committee of the Council of Finnish Academies has made the following recommendations on organising research and collaboration during times of crisis for universities and research institutions. Their purpose is to ensure that Finnish universities and research institutions work in conjunction with their employees and research affiliates.
The Human Rights Committee emphasises honouring the ethical principles of science during times of crisis and in relation to authoritative states. These include
- the autonomy of science and research, including the freedom to choose the subject matter, angle, and method of implementation
- the internationality of science and research
- freedom of speech and
- honouring human rights.
Legislation regarding universities
According to the Section 2 of the Universities Act, it is the universities’ mission to promote both independent academic research and artistic education, provide the highest level of research-based tuition, and to prepare their students to serve both their country as well as humanity at large. In carrying out their mission, the universities shall promote lifelong learning, interact with the surrounding society, and promote the social impact of university research findings and artistic activities. When it comes to research, ensuring the high international standards and adherence to the ethical principles and good scientific conduct is expected. Section 6 of the Universities Act also stipulates that universities enjoy freedom of research, art, and education.
Viewpoints on collaboration with countries and organisations
In the wake of Russia’s attack against Ukraine, The Ministry of Education and Culture has made a recommendation that Finnish universities cease all academic and scientific collaboration with their Russian associate organisations from 9.3.2022 onwards. The Human Rights Committee approves of the recommendation due to its intention to support Ukraine, while emphasising the notion that sanctions targeted towards countries, institutions, and organisations don’t necessarily require discontinuation of collaborative research between individuals. It is clear that actions based on the policies outlined by the Ministry of Education and Culture should be targeted towards supporting Ukraine, not against independent Russian or Belarussian researchers or students.
While applying these recommendations, universities and research institutes should avoid making categorical decisions with possible unintentional consequences. As befits their status as scientific organisations, universities should base their restrictive decisions on the best available data and expertise regarding the human rights situation and scientific field of the area in question. Utilising the knowledge regarding a specific country or a region ensures that the sanctions won’t cause harm to unintended groups of citizens, or system-critical research fields.
How authoritative states might be able to utilise these sanctions to silence the criticism within the country, increase the amount of oppression towards minorities and to wage information warfare, should also factor in the decisions made by universities.
Categorical decisions made by individual universities can also have an adverse effect on researchers working in Finnish universities and research institutions, as well as funding granted for their research projects. This in turn might have a long-term negative impact on the job- and career opportunities of these researchers. As employers, universities and research facilities should eschew any overreactions that might violate the autonomy of research. Researchers suffering from sanctions imposed by Finnish universities and research facilities should be offered a chance to re-negotiate the funding for their research projects if necessary.
During times of crisis, we recommend abstaining from dual-use research as well as research that might benefit the economic life of a country under sanctions.
All crises end someday. Earlier decisions should be re-evaluated during changing situations. It’s also worth remembering that all rebuilding-enabling scientific connections have not been completely severed during the crisis.
Viewpoints on collaboration with individuals
The Human Rights Committee is of the opinion that collaboration with individuals can in many cases be continued or even reinforced during times of crisis. International networks and collaboration can prove invaluable to the researchers operating in totalitarian states and in countries that are undergoing a crisis. They can also act as a deciding factor in whether their critical work is allowed to continue at all.
The ability of universities operating in totalitarian states to stand against their government’s decisions and regulations is limited. Also, researchers and teachers working in these countries should not be expected to express opinions that might pose a threat to their life, freedom, or research, nor should this act as a condition for continued collaboration.
The nationality or residency of an individual researcher should not be used as the sole reason for terminating collaborative research. Recommendations made with sanctions in mind should not lead to discrimination against a person.
When universities and research institutes decide on what kind of collaborative research can still be continued, the responsibility for case-by-case decisions should be distributed between individual researchers and leaders of research teams and projects. After all, they are the foremost experts in their respective fields of research. Universities should also provide them with more information and understanding regarding the human rights situation of countries that are undergoing crisis, if necessary. This way they can be assured of the fact that there are ethical reasons behind the continued collaboration.
What universities, research teams and individual researchers can do in crisis situations
Russia’s attack against Ukraine has brought some factors into public knowledge that have already been regrettably familiar to the world’s scientific community. These include the status of individual academic research under authoritative governance, prerequisite of operations for universities in countries under attack or occupation, and as a result of this, the vulnerable position of researchers who have been forced to leave their homes. The Human Rights Committee has compiled some ways in which the Finnish research community could lend its support to researchers who find themselves in a dire situation. These ways help with the intention to support Ukraine and its people through university education and research collaboration as well.
- Universities can lend their support to other universities that have been forced to cease their operations due to being caught in the middle of war of aggression. This support could take the form of collaborative research or coordinated teaching, as an example.
- Universities can lend their support to other universities that have been forced to move their operations to another country.
- Universities and research organisations (from now on, universities) can grant double affiliations to researchers who are in danger. This allows for researchers and teachers who find themselves in need of help due to human right violations to seek assistance from Finnish actors and the Finnish government as well.
- Universities can fund the Scholars at Risk network’s operations.
- Research teams and individual researchers can, by their own discretion and for good reasons, carry on with collaborative research with their co-researchers, as long as their research supports individual science.
- Research teams and individual researchers can, by their own discretion and for good reasons, send invitations for others to attend researcher meetings and conferences without affiliations. In this case, it is important to arrange their participation without the need for their employer to cover the resulting expenses.
- Research teams and individual researchers can, by their own discretion, look for ways to maintain research intended to strengthen and uphold civil society in collaboration with opinionated researchers operating in countries in crisis.
- The safety of researchers operating in authoritative states must take priority in all actions.
The Human Rights Committee of the Council of Finnish Academies
Chairperson of the Human Rights Committee of the Council of Finnish Academies, professor Liisa Laakso, firstname.lastname@example.org
Science Secretary Veera Launis, email@example.com