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A UK cancer research facility has apologized for telling a student that her PhD application had been rejected because she is Russian.

The controversy erupted when student Alisa Iakupova tweeted on Tuesday that her friend had been denied a PhD place at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, which is based in Glasgow, Scotland.

Iakupova posted a screenshot of what she said was a response from the institute, which said: “I am afraid that I have to withdraw my offer. I have just been told that very recently Beatson has established a new policy upon which I am unable to appoint you because you are Russian.” 

The letter did not elaborate on Beatson’s decision-making process but went on to say: “I find it so unfair that what is going on in Russia affects very talented young scientists like you.” 

The letter apparently alluded to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, which prompted many countries, including the UK, to impose sweeping sanctions on Moscow, and many Western institutions to abruptly cut ties with Russia.

Beatson Director Owen Sansom released a statement on Thursday, saying that the institute “does not have a policy of declining any applications from Russian students on the basis of their nationality.” The applications are considered on a case-by-case basis, he wrote.

In this case there was an initial misunderstanding of these restrictions, which has been addressed. We have contacted the applicant involved to offer them a place and have apologized for any distress caused. We are reviewing our processes internally to prevent this issue from occurring again.

“I hope this will serve as an example for other institutes if they decide to suddenly change their mind on hiring people of a certain nationality,” Iakupova said in response to Sansom’s statement.

A similar incident occurred in May at the University of West London (UWL), which was criticized for rejecting a masters course application from a Russian woman, citing “recent events and [the] situation in Ukraine.” The university said that “an internal miscommunication” was at fault, and apologized to the applicant.

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