Flanders refuses applications from Russian students

Flanders refuses applications from Russian students
Flemish Education Minister Ben Weyts. Credit: Belga

Russian students who apply for a study grant in Flanders will not get one, as Flemish Education Minister Ben Weyts excluded Russia from the 'Mastermind' scholarship programme at the request of his Ukrainian colleague Serhiy Shkarlet.

Shkarlet wrote a letter to Weyts last Saturday, urging him to end cooperation with Russia and introduce strict restrictions on educational and research activities of the "aggressor," Weyts cabinet confirmed to The Brussels Times.

"We are not doing this because we believe that all Russians are guilty of the war," said Weyts. "But we are doing it because we hope that measures like this will help to put pressure on those in power in Russia."

Now, he decided that Russian students in Flanders can no longer apply for financial support, as the Russian Federation is excluded from the Mastermind scholarship programme.

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However, this does not mean that Russian students who are currently taking classes here will lose their scholarships. It only concerns new applications, Weyts' cabinet stressed.

Additionally, Russia is also being scrapped as a possible scholarship destination for the time being. This also applies to Ukraine, to safeguard the safety of Flemish students and teachers.

In his reply to Shkarlet, Weyts stressed that these decisions are not directed against Russian citizens, but against the Russian regime. Flanders wants to show its "disgust" with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Additionally, Weyts also hopes that any additional measure can help to increase the pressure on the Russian government. "This way, we want to show our disapproval of the blatant attack on the sovereignty of Ukraine."

Russian students still welcome

In the meantime, some universities and university colleges in Flanders already announced that they will not ban Russian students. On Tuesday afternoon, Luc Sels, rector of the KU Leuven announced that his university "continues to welcome and support Russian students."

"In the long run, this is probably our most powerful contribution to more mutual understanding between EU and Russia," he said on Twitter. "Suspending institutional cooperation is one thing, letting students pay the price is another."

The General Director of the Odissee Hogeschool, Ann Verreth, also announced that the college will "deliberately keep [its] door open for Russian students, as for all students."

"Depriving students of a good education – and thus often depriving them of a broader view and a different perspective on man and society – does not seem to us to be the right way to go," she added.

Update: This article was updated to include the response of the universities.

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