#Ukraine: providing and receiving support

Meeting Early Career Researchers in Ukraine: 30% Fewer Young Scientists than before the War

As part of the visit of Eurodoc with stakeholders in Ukraine, a round table with representatives of the 24 regional Young Scientist Councils took place on July 21, 2023 1They travelled to Kyiv to meet with Eurodoc’s president and vice president and discuss how the war had affected both their professional and personal lives and the role research and higher education can play for the recovery of Ukraine and specifically in their regions. 

The representatives talked about the problems and challenges doctoral students and early career researchers in their region are facing at the moment. Many are currently internally displaced and no longer have access to their workplace or their research materials, some have had to change the focus of their research. Many lack equipment as well as access to software with the fees being simply too high for the researchers to afford. They also note that often early career researchers often have to pay publication fees out of their own pocket. 

In 2021, there were around 16’000 young scientists. Now in 2023, there are only around 11'000 with 5’000 who have been significantly affected by the war. Some have left academia, some have left the country, some have left to fight the war, but the key reason that the number has dropped significantly is because fewer have been employed as young scientists compared to before the war. Thus, those who remain experience that their working conditions have deteriorated, that their salaries – currently between €200-300/month for the young scientist – are no longer sufficient to make ends meet, particularly with salaries also often being cut during students’ vacation time while, and many work several jobs. The shortage in staff also significantly leads to a higher workload for those who remain. 
The decrease in the numbers of young scientists raises particular concerns. Without intervention, an academic generation will be lost, which will have consequences lasting long into the future: the current generation of Ukrainian young scientists is not just shaping the higher education and research sector currently, but crucially will do so for the decades to come as senior academic staff. If they leave academia now, they will not be in academia in a decade or two. It is, then, particularly crucial to consider how to make academic career paths attractive for the young scientists in Ukraine. 

Denys Kurbatov, Deputy Minister for Research at the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, thus had similarly highlighted the day before that “areas of priority for cooperation between Ukraine and international organisations ”should importantly also be “projects that will allow Ukrainian scientists to realise themselves working in Ukraine without the need for an extended stay abroad; projects aimed at returning scientists to Ukraine after being forced to go abroad; projects to restore the research infrastructure of Ukraine and ensure its continuous functioning; projects to support young scientists.” 

Despite all the adversities they are facing, the early career researchers meeting with Eurodoc in Kyiv chose to in addition also be active in their young scientists councils, because they wish to improve the conditions of young scientists and strengthen the role of research and higher education in Ukraine. As Yuliia Matei, a young scientist representing the Kharkiv region says: “For me, working in the Council of Young Scientists is not just a duty or a vocation, but a real passion that inspires me to reach new heights in science and promotes professional and personal growth. I work on the organisation of scientific conferences, seminars, master classes aimed at spreading scientific knowledge and promoting student research. My activity in the Council is based on my belief in the powerful impact of science on society and the importance of supporting and developing young researchers.” 

The participants in the roundtable expressed their hopes for the potential of Ukrainian higher education in particular, and stressed how important it is to work on attracting teachers and scientists to promote innovation in the educational process and in research. However, ensuring the availability of higher education for all fields and across all of Ukraine is a challenge at the moment and will remain a challenge if there is no dedicated funding specifically for the recovery of academia. 

Eurodoc president Sebastian Dahle surmises: “All the experiences and reflections that the young scientists shared with us during the round table told two stories: on the one hand, young scientists in Ukraine are struggling to make ends meet both privately and professionally, the lack of funding means lack of access to the tools, equipment, software that is needed to conduct research, in all fields from STEM to the Humanities. This clearly shows that dedicated funding and support is needed to uphold research and higher education in Ukraine. On the other hand, the round table also shows how young scientists are driving factors of innovation and societal change.” 

Media Contact: Hannah Schoch, Eurodoc Secretary, hannah.schoch@eurodoc.net

1 In the Ukrainian academic system, a young scientist is an academic staff that must be below 35 if they do not hold a doctoral degree or below 40 if they hold a doctoral degree. In addition to the young scientists who in Ukraine are all employed, early career researchers in Ukraine also include around 40’000 doctoral candidates