The Unbroken. How universities in Ukraine become centers of hope

12. Dec 2022 | 8th edition: The Russian war on Ukraine and its effects on Higher Education, Academ & Qace Up Knowledge Bar, Articles

“How are you doing? – foreign friends and colleagues from European and American universities and business schools have asked me for the last 9 months. My usual answer was – “Everything is O.K. We cope with the difficulties! Thank you.”
But in fact, I want to say something completely different to all our partners and friends.

By Nataliya Oboznenko
Academic Director
Lviv Business School of UCU (LvBS)

We wanted to tell them about daily rocket attacks notified by multiple app alarms in public places and about our everyday readiness for a possible several-hour stay in the shelter without light, mobile connection, or the Internet. We could explain how parents stress during alarm when they can’t connect with children stuck in the shelter at school. Then, we could share our meeting agenda about preparing for an apocalyptic winter without electricity and heating while we discuss the urgent purchase of charging stations, generators, rechargeable lamps, hot water pots and power banks, Starlinks, and everything else that keeps energy, connection, and heat without access to the power grid.

We could quote our discussions with teachers about their injured relatives instead of the following course on strategy. We can share with you the numerous extra plans B, C, and D for every study day on Campus.

But we wouldn’t have told you all those details. It is how a regular Ukrainian family lives, how every Ukrainian organization survives, and how the Ukrainian Catholic University Business School works. And now we discovered that this is how any other country in the world lives in a war context. On the edge of unpredictability, danger, and uncertainty but looking for options to keep human dignity and the minimum necessary level of comfort.

I wouldn’t have told you all those details because we had no choice, or we did make this choice consciously a long time ago in 1991 or even in 1654 choosing freedom instead of a dependent position.

But there are a lot of people, our academic colleagues, who could have continued their peaceful life, but they made a different decision. This is why I would like to dedicate this article to the fascinating people who already helped us during the last 9 months and plan to be with us until the end of the war and further.

On February 22-23, the Executive Technology Management Master’s program hosted a module on Leadership by Professor Gerard Seijts from the Ivey Business School, Western University. Two weeks after the 24th of February we received a letter from Gerard with a very substantial offer: he started collecting funds from private benefactors in Canada for ten scholarships for Ukrainian students. Today 6 of our students and 3 students from Kyiv Mohyla University are studying in Canada on a one-year MBA program with full funding for accommodation and tuition. We received a valuable offer of student mobility and confirmation of real support in hard times. Today Prof. Seijts is preparing research on the roots of Ukrainian Leadership, and had a presentation speech during Alumni Leadership Day of our school and takes an active role in highlighting the reasons for this conflict and Leader Character in various media. Leadership has many forms and the active position of Prof. Seijts is one of the bright examples.

We met Aneil Mishra (Dean of the Flint Business School Michigan University) and his wife Karen Mishra (Professor of Lundy-Fetterman School of Business, Campbell University) before the war. We planned Anil’s coming to Ukraine and teaching a course in management at our master’s programs. As soon as the invasion happened, the couple offered help immediately. In April, they financed the Gallup testing for 20 students of the MS in Innovations and Entrepreneurship program on personality strengths and provided an online Clifford Strength workshop. The same workshop is available to students of the Ma of marketing. We still plan to organize a joint webinar on trust with the local professor and invite Karren and Aneil as scientific directors of the students’ final papers and projects. Finally, last week, we received a paper book by Aneil and Karen Mishra called “Intentional Leadership”.

EFMD was the first professional association of business schools, which reacted to the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the fastest and their statement was the clearest. Our European colleagues offered the whole list of free-of-charge opportunities for Ukrainian Business Schools. In April, a group of UCU Business School administrative staff attended the Faculty Management Development Programme. In June, representatives of the UCU Business School participated in the EFMD 50th anniversary conference and discussed Membership options. In October 2022, we applied for membership to EFMD with the plan for further accreditation of the School. During the ultimate destabilization, we seek to make plans and work on the quality performance of teaching and be well prepared for postwar life. Such timely and substantial support of EFMD proved that even if the global community doesn’t yet know how to prevent the rebirth of evil we learned how to help each other to go through the dark times.

With Angelika Krastina, a professor from Lapland University of Applied Sciences, we started talking on a course on innovation just before the war. We planned to deliver a joint online lecture and workshop on innovation to students from our two universities. We set a date before the war and despite everything we implemented this project on May 10, combining 2 courses (Design Thinking and Hofstede model) together with 3 groups of Finish and 1 group of Ukrainian students. That day I connected to Zoom directly from the funeral of my godfather, who died in the war. We have learned how to wipe away tears and immediately switch from sorrow to daily routine, because life goes on, and our students must continue their studies.

On October 16, Professor Philip Nicols from Wharton Business School, whose conference in Asia was canceled, decided to come to UCU to spend a week of his unexpectedly free time supporting students in Ukraine. So he just called and said, “I have a free week and want to help you by giving a few lectures on Business Ethics.” And we were happy to organize class discussions with our students and speak undercover on the essential topics of corruption, legality, justice, and ethics. During lectures, several raid attacks occurred and we were obliged to move all the equipment and participants to the shelter to continue studying anyway.

Online support from POLIMI, DePaul, UFred, Wharton

We resumed our studies on 14 March. The core program was somehow adapted to the availability of the faculty members staying in Ukraine or able to teach in online mode and was completed in November. And now the time for electives came. Even in a crisis, we want to form a diverse portfolio of courses, add international academic components, and introduce options to learn in a cross-cultural environment. Fortunately, since the 24th of February, a lot of Universities and Business schools have offered to open their online courses for Ukrainian students. Among others, I would like to mention some of them, namely POLIMI, DePaul, and UFred, which worked long hours with our managers and international offices to choose appropriate courses, adapt the curriculum, and convert credits and contact hours to our local credit system.

Donald Huesman from Wharton online courses was also willing to contribute. He found time in his busy schedule to discuss opportunities to support UCU BS and provide access to Wharton online courses to our faculty members and students. So what does it give us? First, it powerfully helps the sense of normality of scientists and teachers living in abnormal war conditions. Second, it provides an opportunity, despite all limitations, to study and grow, to acquire new knowledge and tools, and transfer them to our students. Third, it ultimately saves our financial resources, which we primarily allocate to support the Army.

With the onset of the war while we find ourselves in the very unfavorable context a lot of female teachers and students went abroad male students and faculty are unwilling or unable to teach due to the draft constant alarms break the integrity of the lecture day power outages and unstable internet cut hybrid study format (0n-line\offline emotional exhaustion of everyone (death of relatives, friends, parents) everyday decreasing of prices (prices have doubled since the beginning of the war), a financial budget is under pressure from unexpected expenses for generators, batteries, and charging stations,) and from falling student numbers due to the draft new challenges occur every day and require constant readiness to change supporting the Army as an additional project for everyone takes a lot of energy and remains of higher priority than education. We fight on the educational frontline trying to transform our daily routine and strategic planning not only for the survival of Business Education but for its efficient functioning now and in the nearest peaceful future.

We’ve learned how to work within electricity limits in daylight from 9 am to 4 pm in winter. It is cold, and the Wi-Fi does not work correctly, but students are dressed warmly and have thermal mugs with tea. In the lack of access to presentations and electronic materials, teachers work effectively using paper, markers, and flip charts. We use USB drives to download presentations to 3-4 students’ computers and to create a network of monitors for the rest 25 in the classroom instead of the main de-energized computer connected previously to the cloud and zoom technology.

We observe now in Education an interesting fact that the teacher personally became a great value by himself, especially without Google and Internet knowledge. Being in the same location with a teacher guarantees the result of education.

We learned how to work without light and the internet, but as humans, we cannot survive without safety and empathy.

So we transform our schools and universities into the centers of defiance, safety, and hope for the future. We are grateful for all support that has already been offered by our academic colleagues and institutions and keep working for the sake of Higher education. Hoping one day to meet all our supporters at the Campus.


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