MIT ends partnership with Russian research center in response to Ukraine invasion

MIT announced it will no longer participate in a decade-long partnership that helped establish a research university in Moscow, Russia.

The decision followed the Russian government's decision to invade Ukraine last week.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has announced that it will no longer participate in a joint operation to retain the Skoltech Program, a decade-long initiative that helped cement a private research university in Moscow.

The Feb. 25 announcement pinned the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine as a reason for terminating the university’s involvement.

”In light of unacceptable military action against Ukraine by the Russian government, MIT President L. Rafael Reif, in consultation with senior leadership, determined that MIT’s relationship with the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) must end,” the announcement read.

Prior to the public announcement, a formal notice was sent to Skoltech explaining that the school would be “exercise[ing] its right” to retract support. 

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”This step is a rejection of the actions of the Russian government in Ukraine,” the announcement continued. “We take it with deep regret because of our respect for the Russian people and our profound appreciation for the contributions of the many extraordinary Russian colleagues we have worked with.”

Despite the estrangement, the announcement affirmed the university is “proud” of the work and research that the program accomplished during its near 10-year stint. MIT acknowledged the impact the retracted support would have on the Russian colleagues operating the institute and the participating students, and confirmed that principal investigators are examining a solution to help studies continue “uninterrupted.”

The Skoltech Program is a trilateral agreement between MIT, the Russian university, and the Skolkovo Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that aims to create a “sustainable ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation” and encourage the pursuit of capitalism.

According to its website, the MIT Skoltech Program aids in the research initiatives of the private university by providing resources such as advisory council and program funding. The program was unscaled in two phases, the first of which lasted from 2011 to 2016, to launch the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology.

In 2019, upon the end of the initial contract, the university opted to extend collaborative research efforts between the two universities for an additional five years. 

Under the arrangement, the third phase would have ended in 2024. 

Aside from funding, MIT was also responsible for assisting in the development of Skoltech’s “administration, facilities, and operations,” including logistics such as faculty hiring, student recruitment, and degree development.

Foreign influence on college campuses has been an increasing concern as security risks threaten potential espionage and undermining within American higher education. In 2021, universities were dealt a decisive blow as connections with Chinese-operated Confucius Institutes were challenged by students and legislators.

The move to drive Chinese influence from college campuses has stemmed from student activism, as was seen at Tufts University in April 2021. The university responded to the demands of the protesting students by effectively severing ties with the CCP-funded institute.

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Lawmakers, as well, have taken a decisive role in the debate. Campus Reform reported as universities have nestled themselves between a rock and a hard place as administrators are now forced to decide between research funding, and continued CCP support.

Per the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021, universities that continue to engage in partnerships with Chinese-funded institutions risk losing all research funding granted by the Department of Defense.

According to the National Association of Scholars, 19 Confucius Institutes still operate within the United States of America- including four intent on shuttering its doors including University of Akron, Valparaiso University, Bryant University, and Alabama A&M University.

Campus Reform contacted MIT for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

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