Nearly a third of U.S. students polled favor banning Russian students during war

Some worry about spying and seat-taking at colleges, despite the merits of international exchange.

Eric Swalwell, the high-profile Democrat representative from Northern California, is not alone in his commentary about “kicking every Russian student out of the United States.”

According to a new poll released by of more than 1,200 students at two- and four-year degree-granting colleges and universities, 35% said the United States should impose a ban on Russians studying at institutions in America while the war in Ukraine continues and escalates. A similar percentage of students also don’t want Ukraine students to be in the U.S. for the duration of the war.

Among the respondents who favored Russian student removal—a cross-section that was surprisingly split among all parties, with Republicans showing more of a propensity toward bans—there were some strong views from respondents. Authors noted that “36% of students who support the ban say it’s because Russian students might be spies, [while] 35% don’t believe that Russian students deserve the benefit of an American education.” About 5,000 Russians are in exchange programs in the U.S., a tiny percentage of the overall populations of students at institutions.

More from UB: How is the Russia-Ukraine war impacting international student exchange?

Higher education leaders who support international exchange largely disagree, and nearly 45% of respondents to the Intelligent survey feel the same, citing that they should not be penalized for the actions of their president, Vladimir Putin. They also said banning them wouldn’t have any effect on his decision to end the war. Instead, as top U.S. officials including President Joe Biden have pointed out, sanctions are being levied against those with deep ties to Putin, such as oligarchs. The biggest group of those surveyed (44%) simply felt “it was unfair to Russian students” to be banned.

The group offering the least resistance to Russian students remaining in the U.S. was not Republicans, Democrats, Independents or third parties such as Libertarians but those who consider themselves apolitical. They were also the group that strongly disagreed most with a ban.

On the flip side, nearly 60% of students believe that Ukrainian students should be allowed to stay in the U.S. until the war ends, with Democrats positioned somewhat higher at 70%. The U.S. has approved temporary status for those individuals for 18 months even if their visas are not up to date. The group of those who said Ukraine students shouldn’t be allowed to stay at U.S. schools for the duration of the war offered some interesting viewpoints.

“Forty percent say Ukrainians should go home to defend their country, it’s not the U.S.’s responsibility to protect Ukrainian citizens, and letting Ukrainians stay is unfair to American students,” the authors wrote. One-quarter of students have no opinion on which side they favor in the war, and 15% of students in the poll actually back Russia in their attempt to take over Ukraine.

It is unlikely that international programs will change for Russian or Ukrainian students studying here in the U.S. unless there are significant conflicts or possibly another pandemic. The international exchange programs are far too valuable for institutions, the research they perform require ideas and innovation from abroad and there are too many opportunities on the line for students and families.

“Throughout the Cold War, the good and the bad, our universities have remained open to Russian students,” said Jason Czyz, Co-President of the Institute of International Education. “My guess is that will not change, that the whole cultural and educational change between our countries will continue.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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