Frequently Asked Questions – Akno/UNE mentoring programme
WHAT Akno / UNE / the AknoUNE mentoring programme is
What are Akno and UNE?
The Akno/UNE mentoring programme is launched by the teams behind Akno – a German academic association that targets students and scholars at risk from Central & Eastern Europe – and UNE or The University of New Europe. UNE is an initiative by a group of scholars who plea for a new European research and teaching institution. With this institution, we want to train and teach critical understanding of the acute political, social, and economic challenges that Europe is facing now. With different illiberalization developments in mind, at UNE a fixed number of places will be allocated to European (and a small number of positions to non-European) students and scholars at risk.
Does UNE offer positions and/or funding of its own?
No. UNE is a university in the making. We are not (yet) a running institution, and do not offer any degrees, accreditation, or career opportunities ourselves. Now that the Russian war in Ukraine has made the displacement of students, scholars, and cultural workers a pressing issue, we do pair these groups to experienced mentors to help them facilitate matches with existing (emergency) initiatives and programmes. This is the UNE mentoring programme’s aim.
What is the Akno/UNE mentor programme?
Since February 2022, the Akno/UNE team has concentrated its attention on fleeing, shelter, and emergency initiatives aimed at students, scholars, and cultural workers from Ukraine and also from Belarus and Russia. Our aim is to connect these groups to experienced professionals from elsewhere and to assist mentor pairs actively in exploring different career options. Put differently, with the mentoring programme, we act as matchmakers between qualified people from locations at risk on the one hand and colleagues at knowledge/cultural institutions from elsewhere on the other.
WHOM we assist
What explains the choice to unite Ukrainian refugee scholars, students and cultural workers with Belarusian and Russian scholars, students and cultural workers in one programme?
The University of New Europe aims to unite critical thinkers and cultural workers across Europe. The same aim explains our striving to use the mentoring programme to reach out firstly, but not exclusively to Ukrainian students, scholars, and cultural workers at risk. We do so in the awareness that the war is, first and foremost, placing vast amounts of Ukrainian students, scholars, and cultural workers at acute risk in one way or another. And we do so in the awareness that Ukrainian students, scholars, and cultural workers who face or flee the war face different problems and needs than Belarusian and Russian students, scholars, and cultural workers who face or risk political persecution because they express political dissent.
I am a Ukrainian mentee who objects against participating in one programme with Russian mentees or mentors. What to do?
Although Akno and UNE are transnational solidarity networks, we take into account a desire among many mentees to avoid forced bridge-building at this moment. Our mentorships are one-on-one connections and we do not couple Ukrainian mentees to Russian mentors or vice versa. Participation in our mentorship consult webinars is anonymous, and if we schedule a presentation by, say, a representative of a Russian solidarity network, we announce this in advance and schedule this as a separate section of the consult.
If I sign up as a Belarusian or Russian mentee, do I risk taking the place of a Ukrainian student, scholar, or cultural worker in need?
No. Many high-profile scholars and cultural workers want to help colleagues and/or students. Connecting participants to mentors can take a bit of time, but we keep soliciting enough mentors to continue to connect all mentees to a mentor.
I am a Belarusian or Russian mentee who fears persecution, but has no formal at-risk status or proof of an arrest. Can I still participate?
Yes, you can. Next to the many Ukrainian students, scholars, and cultural workers who are affected by the Russian war in Ukraine, we offer assistance to (Bela-)Rus(s)ian students, scholars, and cultural workers who are in professional and personal need because they oppose their regimes. If they want to flee or relocate, they may be asked for formal proofs of public dissent or persecution elsewhere – but we do not ask for documentation.
Is English the only working language in the mentoring programme?
Yes. To our regret, we do not have the means or team size to facilitate a programme in different languages. For pragmatic reasons, we therefore rely on English as working language. It is not necessary to speak English perfectly to participate, however.
Is it possible to participate in the programme if I do not have Internet access?
We realize that stable Internet access is not self-evident for all participants. As our registration takes place online, participants do need web access to register – but once mentees are linked to mentors they can communicate outside online channels (e.g. via Signal or other safer options for mentees who are fleeing or risking persecution).
HOW the programme works
I am considering assisting a colleague or student in need. How does doing so via this programme differ from simply helping them on my own?
We offer participants a. an interactive and regularly updated open access database with relevant opportunities; b. monthly mentorship consult webinars with invited expert guests (e.g. a psychologist, a migration lawyer), where we collect questions and offer live advice; and c. assistance via e-mail where questions arise.
How does the ‘Search Opportunities’ database work?
At the heart of the programme is our extensive, crowdsourced opportunities database which contains currently available emergency, shelter, fellowship and other opportunities for students, scholars, and cultural workers at risk from, first, Ukraine and, second, Belarus and Russia. This searchable, interactive database is regularly updated. We therefore advise mentors and mentees to keep revisiting and using updated online versions of the database. Via our ‘Register Opportunity’ page you can also register potentially useful opportunities yourself.
NB1 Most programs in our database understandably address the substantial amounts of Ukrainian students, scholars, and cultural workers who are now at risk; but we also collect and share options for Belarusian and Russian students, scholars, and cultural workers at risk.
NB2 This program was launched by academics and many programmes target academics in the humanities and social sciences; but the database also includes options for artists, journalists, and other cultural practitioners.
Does the opportunities database include programmes offered by Akno or UNE?
No. The items in the database are not our own programmes or links (see also our answer on UNE’s status as institution in the making). In the database we organize and share various options, but we do not own or control these options ourselves.
I am a mentor/mentee who saw a useful programme, but I am unclear about visa or rights of travel. What to do?
For mentees from Ukraine, our database includes this EU website with country-specific details on travel and residence rights for Ukrainians fleeing to countries within the European Union. For Belarusian and Russian mentees at risk, we also offer some emergency links (e.g. this Telegram group with information on leaving Russia) in the database, but there is no clear international policy and it is, unfortunately, difficult to collect up-to-date information online for most countries. We do advise mentors to reach out directly to potentially interesting host institutions and ask their own institutions’ international offices for advice or help.
How do the mentorship webinars work?
At our monthly mentorship consult webinars, we invited expert guests – e.g. a psychologist, a migration lawyer, or a representative of relevant NGOs or solidarity networks – for short info talks. We collect questions and offer live advice on their work and on our programme. The webinars are organized anonymously and in cooperation with a cybersecurity expert.
HOW (not) to mentor
How to start and ‘do’ a mentorship?
Here are three suggestions on how mentors can start and facilitate a mentorship (NB both mentees and mentors can start the connection, but we advise mentors to take the lead):
- Organize an online meeting to get to know each other. This meeting can take place on short term – say, within (a) day(s) after we connect you. It can also happen less quickly, if mentees seek long-term advice; if they must prioritize basic safety issues or other matters first; or if the mentee is not yet (mentally) ready to start.
- At the first meeting, we propose that mentors a. inventorize what the needs and wishes of the mentee are (or merely listen; see also 1. on the need to sometimes take more time to start up), and b. that, based on these needs, they plan e.g. 2-3 follow-up meetings where they jointly explore fleeing/shelter/sabbatical options. We propose that mentors use our opportunities database in doing so. One scenario could be that, based on the information that the mentee shared at the first meeting, the mentor browses the database and shares potentially useful options at the next meeting.
- We advise participants to join the webinar consult hours that we host once per month.
What are do’s and don’ts for a good mentor connection?
We advise mentors:
- to always check with their mentees if it is OK to share their names publicly or with colleagues, and to refrain from sharing details without permission. This is especially but not only pertinent for students, scholars, or cultural workers who risk persecution.
- to be proactive in (re-)connecting to mentees. Unless mentees indicate that further contact is not useful for them it is good to reach out more than once, also if a mentee is beyond acute danger. For most mentees, it helps to be offered more than one-time only moral support; and as time passes, new obstacles may arise for which the mentor connection can be useful. Mentees will not always reach out themselves in that case.
- to use the psychosocial support options in our opportunities database and/or team up with a colleague if they themselves experience distress in response to the mentoring work.
What to do when you do not know what to do?
You can always contact us for questions on complex situations or questions.
WHAT IF you encounter mentoring problems
I have registered, but I have not been paired yet. How come?
We try to work quickly – but we cannot always connect people as rapidly as we want. But if you have to wait more than a week, feel free to contact us to check if all went well.
What if my mentor connection is not a good match?
We cannot always offer perfect matches. We hope that you understand and that connections nevertheless offer some help. But if a match truly does not work or if you do not feel comfortable or safe as mentee (or as mentor), please do contact us.
Is a mentorship supposed to lead to a concrete outcome?
Whether the opportunities database and mentor connection lead to success or concrete solutions is, unfortunately, never certain. This is also important for mentors to keep in mind: it is not always possible to succeed in finding solutions. What we do hope and see is that connections offer mentees some moral support and relief to start with.