As federal agencies cut ties with Russia, we must not stop welcoming Russian researchers and students

Sebastian Leck
March 23, 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has shaken the entire world, and the effects are being felt in the world of science and technology.

The federal government has asked federal funding agencies — the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada — to refrain from entering into agreements with Russian research institutions. They have also called upon all other entities that receive federal funding for science and research-related activities to restrict engagements with Russia, from adMare BioInnovations to the Canada Foundation for Innovation to Genome Canada.

They did not, however, call for a broad ban on collaborations with Russian researchers. To help Ukrainians, the granting agencies will establish a special response fund for Ukrainian research trainees at the masters, doctoral and postdoctoral levels.

The government should be praised for acting quickly, especially for the response fund for Ukrainian researchers who can no longer work in their country. I also want to make a case for Canada to accept and welcome as many Russian students and researchers as we can, with the obvious security caveats.

I grew up partly in Russia. I spent four years at an international school in Moscow surrounded by students from around the world, but especially from Russia and nearby countries in Eastern Europe. Many of those students, now in their late twenties, attended foreign universities and they live a life with one foot in countries like the U.S. or Canada and another foot back home. They are among the young, modern Russians who do not support Vladimir Putin's war, because they have a stake in the international system and have seen the benefits that democracy and an open economy can bring.

Russian students and researchers must be welcomed into Canadian institutions and partnerships. The University of British Columbia has offered tuition deferrals for Russian students who have been affected by sanctions, and efforts like those will be important. There is value in welcoming foreign students and researchers to our universities and demonstrating a tolerance and commitment to progress that their own governments lack. As with national security policies targeting China, we must avoid creating a chill that discourages work with Russian collaborators, but also take care not to aid Putin's administration.

We are spoiled in Canada, with our imperfect and fragmented government that nonetheless allows for huge wealth and opportunity. At Research Money, we frequently criticize the Canadian and provincial governments and ask for more coherent innovation strategies and better support for homegrown companies. Moments like this remind us that we’ve gotten much of it right, and that we are fortunate to live in a country that allows for forthright critique of its government. While Canadian research institutions can do little about the war, they can continue to invite researchers from around the world to innovate and construct a better world.

Sebastian Leck is Research Money's managing editor.


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