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Ukraine war leaves Indian students stranded and desperate to finish degrees

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Shishupal Rozen’s dream of becoming a doctor was blown apart on February 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine.

The fourth-year medical student was training at Kharkiv’s largest university when Russia unleashed some of the war’s fiercest bombardment on Ukraine’s second city.

Rozen took shelter from the barrage in the Studentska metro station, which reminded him of photos he had seen of London during the second world war.

Under Operation Ganga (Ganges), New Delhi organised the mass evacuation of Indian students, who numbered between 15,000 and 20,000 before the war, into Romania, Hungary and Poland. Rozen managed to cross into Poland in March, and from Warsaw flew home on a government-organised evacuation flight.

“When we arrived in Delhi, there were lots of ministers greeting us,” said Rozen, 23. They did everything so that we would reach safety after we crossed the Ukrainian border.”

But more than five months later, Rozen is living at home with his family in a village near Patna, in India’s north-eastern Bihar state. He recently finished his semester online. But local authorities do not recognise online training for aspiring doctors so he is trying, fruitlessly, to secure a spot at a medical college in India.

“We came from a war zone to fight another war,” Rozen said. “This time, our future is at stake, and the Indian government is in mute mode.” 

Rozen is just one of thousands of Indian students whose education has been suspended and are demanding that the Indian government and medical authorities help them.

Since fleeing Ukraine, students have staged protests, including a recent hunger strike in New Delhi. They have petitioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other officials to support and have asked authorities to accommodate them at domestic medical colleges so they can complete their degrees.

The students’ complaints are unusual in that they come from a young, largely middle-class and upwardly mobile demographic, where support for the ruling Bharatiya Janata party is widespread.

India needs medical personnel but criticism of the government has been subdued in a country facing myriad economic and social challenges.

“The students are from different parts of India and concerted action among them is difficult in terms of waging a long and effective protest that might make a difference,” added Ashok Swain, a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden and frequent critic of the Modi government.

The plight of the students was raised recently in India’s parliament.

“We have been in touch with educational authorities in Ukraine in this context,” Meenakshi Lekhi, culture minister, said in response. “The Ukrainian side has essentially reiterated its willingness to continue online courses.” She did not address the issue of accommodating students at Indian institutions.

Before the war, Indians were the largest group of foreigners studying in Ukraine, accounting for nearly a quarter of the total.

Ukrainian medical schools offer courses in English, which were a popular alternative for Indians unable to secure spots in their country’s ferociously competitive state colleges or pay for a private institution.

Akash Raj, 19, a second-year student at Ivano-Frankivsk National Medical University in western Ukraine, was woken by a phone call on the morning of the invasion. “My friend called and said there was a bomb blast in a nearby airport and when we woke up we saw a black cloud over it.” 

The Indian embassy told students to leave, he said, and he took a bus towards Romania. After an eight-hour trek on foot and an overnight wait in sub-zero temperatures, he managed to cross the border, and then fly to Delhi.

Back in India, Raj returned to his family home in Gurgaon near Delhi, where he follows online classes from Ukraine. “I am not happy because I very much like offline classes,” he said.

His father, RV Gupta, a medical engineer, belongs to an association of parents of evacuated students, which has petitioned the government and courts for redress for their children and staged several protests.

“What we were expecting was that the government would think positively and would accommodate all the students in India,” Gupta said, “But they didn’t.”

Medical students returned from Ukraine protest in New Delhi in July to demand the government allow them to complete their studies at state universities
Students are demanding that the government allow them to complete their studies at state universities © Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times Images/Getty Images

A senior Indian official told the Financial Times that the matter was being dealt with by respective state governments. “As far as the central government is concerned, extant rules on medical studies — admissions, qualifications, eligibility criteria, etc — have to be followed and adhered to,” he said.

Authorities have pointed out that admission requirements and medical practitioner standards were always tough for foreign-trained doctors, whether from Ukraine or elsewhere.

Thousands of Indian students studying in China have also returned home since 2020 because of Beijing’s draconian Zero Covid policies.

Last month, India’s National Medical Commission said it would allow medical students who had completed their degrees before being forced to leave Ukraine, China or elsewhere to sit screening tests that would allow them to practise medicine.

However, the measure did not cover students whose courses were interrupted midway, as with the majority of students who had to evacuate, including Rozen.

Despite the obstacles, he hopes to return to Ukraine after the war to complete his course. “I think one day it will happen,” he said. “I can move hell or heaven to become a doctor.” 

Twitter: @JohnReedwrites



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European stocks slip after hot services data spark Wall Street sell-off

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European stocks slipped on Tuesday after a heavy sell-off overnight on Wall Street, when traders took hotter than expected US services data as a signal for further interest rate raises from the Federal Reserve.

The regional Stoxx Europe 600 and London’s FTSE 100 fell 0.6 per cent and 0.4 per cent, respectively, in early trading.

Contracts tracking Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 both traded in a tight range ahead of the New York open, after a sharp sell-off for US equities in the previous session.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite on Monday endured their largest daily declines since the day after the US midterm elections following a report from the Institute for Supply Management showed that its index, which tracks economic activity in the services sector, expanded for the 30th month in a row in November, rising to 56.5 from 54.4 in October.

The unexpectedly strong figure was interpreted by investors as a sign that the Fed may yet have to keep the world’s most important interest rate higher for longer in an attempt to cool the US economy. A cycle of rate rises has lifted the federal funds rate to a target range of 3.75 per cent to 4 per cent from zero at the start of the year.

“The latest ISM data underline the divergences evident in the US economy as spending continues to shift from goods to services,” said Mark Haefele, global chief investment officer for UBS’s wealth management group, pointing to November’s contraction in the US manufacturing sector.

“While inflation has likely peaked, price pressures in the services sector are proving slow to abate,” Haefele added, noting that “good economic news” lowered the chances of a so-called Fed pivot around inflation expectations.

Fed chair Jay Powell said in a speech last week that although price growth showed signs of cooling in October, “by any standard, inflation remains much too high”. Trading in futures markets shows investors expect US interest rates to peak at about 5 per cent next spring before falling slowly toward the end of 2023.

US government bonds rallied on Tuesday after selling off sharply following the ISM release, though sections of the Treasury market continue to signal an impending recession. The yield on the interest rate-sensitive two-year Treasury fell 0.02 percentage points to 4.37 per cent. The yield on the benchmark 10-year note also lost 0.02 percentage points at 3.58 per cent. Yields fall as prices rise.

Short-term debt yielding more than long-term debt tends to indicate an impending recession, and Julian Howard, lead investment director at GAM, said the Treasury market was “correctly hinting that the [US] economy is going to get really, really hit”.

In Asia, meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index shed 0.4 per cent, though the index has rallied more than 17 per cent since its late October low. China’s CSI index of Shanghai- and Shenzhen-listed stocks gained 0.5 per cent as zero-Covid policies were eased across the country.

In commodity markets, the price of Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell 1.2 per cent to $81.61 a barrel.

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Could Biden’s Climate Agenda Trigger a New Trade War?

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Europe is growing hot over the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act, with opposition to the sweeping climate and economic bill dominating the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council talks this week. Some analysts fear the disagreement could thrust two of the world’s biggest trading partners into a new economic war.

At issue is a portion of the law that offers $369 billion in subsidies and tax breaks to companies that develop green technologies — from electric vehicles and their components to solar panels and renewable energy equipment — in North America.

Brussels fears the I.R.A. gives American companies an unfair advantage. Last week, President Emmanuel Macron of France warned President Biden that any trade imbalance caused by the climate law, along with the CHIPS Act that is meant to bolster American semiconductor manufacturing, could drive a wedge between the allies. On Sunday, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the E.U.’s executive arm, said that Europe could retaliate with subsidies of its own to avoid losing manufacturing business to the United States. (The Swedish electric vehicle battery maker Northvolt, for example, said it would use an I.R.A. subsidy to relocate some production to the U.S.)

The subsidies have become a central talking point at the Trade and Technology Council. On Monday, the E.U.’s trade commissioner, Valdis Dombrovskis, and the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the two sides had discussed the future of U.S. industrial policy around climate, but announced no compromises. Last week, at the DealBook Summit, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Andrew that she’d like to see the I.R.A. bring America’s trading allies closer together by, for example, building “adequate supply chains” around the rare raw materials needed by green technologies. “That is a form of ‘friendshoring,’” Ms. Yellen said.

Europe doesn’t have many options. If a negotiated solution fails, some European lawmakers have called for a formal complaint to the World Trade Organization. But because of inaction by the U.S., the trade organization’s appellate body, its main dispute-resolution function, has been in limbo for years.

“There’s potential for this to escalate into a larger conflict,” Niclas Poitiers, a research fellow specializing in international trade at Bruegel, a Brussels-based think tank, told DealBook. “How do you avoid that?”

Poitiers said that competing climate subsidies from the E.U. were unlikely, and the chances of establishing a carve-out in the U.S. law to create a kind of “green” free-trade agreement were remote. That could mean new tariff threats — and a return to the strained relations of the Trump presidency, when each side imposed billions in levies on products ranging from industrial metals to European spirits to Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

“If things really sour, you might see some kind of retaliatory tariffs,” Mr. Poitiers said. “But I don’t think this is anyone’s preferred objective.”

Restaurant groups escalate their fight against a California law on fast-food workers. An industry coalition said it has collected enough voter signatures to move forward with a ballot initiative seeking to block a state law setting minimum hourly wages. The measure could go up for a vote in 2024.

Meta threatens to remove news from its U.S. platform. The parent company of Facebook floated the possibility as lawmakers consider a bill that would make tech giants pay to carry news content on their platforms. It had a similar battle in Australia, against a plan championed by News Corp., and there it ultimately agreed to pay.

The jury is out in the Trump Organization’s criminal tax fraud trial. Jurors are debating charges by the Manhattan district attorney that the Trump family business evaded taxes on lavish executive perks. Meanwhile, the D.A.’s office has hired Matthew Colangelo, a former Justice Department prosecutor, to help lead another investigation into Donald Trump.

PepsiCo plans to lay off hundreds. The beverage and snack giant will cut jobs at its North American headquarters, the latest sign that a wave of belt-tightening in the face of a worsening economy is expanding beyond tech and media companies.

Nike cuts ties with Kyrie Irving. The sneaker giant formally ended its relationship with the pro basketball player, having suspended it a month after ago after he posted a social media link to an antisemitic film. Nike’s move also echoes one by Adidas, which dropped Ye, the rapper and designer formerly known as Kanye West, after he made antisemitic remarks.

Circle, the cryptocurrency company behind one of the market’s biggest stablecoins, said on Monday that it had called off its effort to go public via a merger with a blank-check fund, or SPAC. The about-face represents the intersection of two once-popular investing trends that have hit hard times.

Circle was up against a Dec. 10 deadline to get its deal done, but it hadn’t received approval from the S.E.C. more than a year after announcing the merger. Circle and its SPAC partner, Concord Acquisition Corp., revised their initial July 2021 agreement in February, doubling its valuation of the crypto company to $9 billion from $4.5 billion.

SPACs have had a rough time of late, with nearly 60 liquidating so far this year after being unable to complete a deal, according to SPAC Research. And crypto, of course, has been reeling since the collapse of the exchange FTX. (Circle, which runs the USD Coin, said it has minimal exposure to FTX.)

Circle still wants to go public, at some point. The company said its finances are healthy — it earned $43 million in the third quarter — and its C.E.O., Jeremy Allaire, tweeted that the crypto industry was “going to decisively leave the speculative value phase” toward a more stable and enduring one.

More crypto news:

  • Ordinary investors are wondering how to recover financially from the crypto plunge.

  • Nexo, a crypto lender, said it would leave the U.S. market after failing to reach agreements with state and national regulators.

  • Britain is finalizing sweeping regulations of the crypto industry, including how to handle the collapse of service providers and restrictions on advertising.

  • Swyftx is the latest crypto exchange to lay off staff, warning that trading volumes could sink again next year.


Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the world’s biggest maker of leading-edge computer chips, will announce on Tuesday that it plans to drastically expand and revamp its factory in Arizona.

The $40 billion initiative — significant enough that President Biden and Tim Cook, Apple’s C.E.O., will attend a celebration of the announcement — is the latest sign that the business world is trying to reduce the risks that China poses to global supply chains.

The news is a win for Mr. Biden, who has made sophisticated semiconductor manufacturing in America a key part of his industrial and national security policy. His administration pushed for measures like the CHIPS Act to motivate companies to build U.S. facilities. “This announcement by TSMC is historic in every way,” Ronnie Chatterji, an acting deputy director of the National Economic Council, told The Times.

Left unmentioned publicly was another consideration: China’s increasing aggression against Taiwan, which analysts worry could add another choke point in an already fragile supply chain.

TSMC could eventually produce chips for iPhones in the U.S., after the company upgrades the two-year-old factory in Phoenix and builds a second facility in the state. The two American plants may ultimately produce only a fraction of what TSMC can make in Taiwan, but experts say they could provide an essential backstop for American tech customers in case of manufacturing emergencies.


Laura Murphy, a professor of human rights and contemporary slavery at Britain’s Sheffield Hallam University, on a new report that shows the global auto sector is highly reliant upon Chinese suppliers that researchers found to have participated in coercive labor programs in Xinjiang Province.


In late September, Marc Benioff was asked if his business software company, Salesforce, would continue its aggressive acquisition strategy even as corporate I.T. spending slumped. The C.E.O. confidently replied, “It seems to be working.” Less than three months later, Wall Street is worrying he may have missed the signs of a downturn.

Salesforce’s shares slumped 7 percent on Monday on news that one of its recent acquisitions, the workplace communication platform Slack, is losing a key asset: its C.E.O., Stewart Butterfield. He launched the business in 2013; Salesforce bought it last year for $27.7 billion.

Mr. Butterfield’s departure was expected, and had been in the works for months, the company said. But investors still seemed disturbed by the news. The company’s stock now has dropped nearly in half this year.

Even by the standards of Big Tech, Salesforces has been hit by a large exodus of key executives:

  • Dec. 2: Mark Carter, a top cybersecurity executive.

  • Dec. 1: Mark Nelson, head of Tableau, which Salesforce acquired in 2019.

  • Nov. 30: Bret Taylor, Salesforce’s co-C.E.O. (He plans to leave in January, and he’d only been in the role just over a year.)

  • Nov. 10: Gavin Patterson, chief strategy officer.

Salesforce has spent $50 billion on acquisitions since 2018. Those deals have kept sales rising quickly, but recent integration costs have sapped the firm’s bottom-line growth. It’s also attracted the activist hedge fund Starboard, which thinks Salesforce could improve its profit margins.

Slack was Salesforce’s largest-ever purchase. When the deal was struck, other pandemic investment plays, like Peloton and Zoom, were soaring. Now Salesforce looks like it might have overpaid.

And now Mr. Benioff and his team will have to run Slack themselves. Along with Butterfield, a number of other top Slack executives are leaving as well. Mr. Benioff on Monday named a Salesforce executive to run the brand. “Salesforce’s history of acquisitions could present a high degree of execution risk,” Bank of America analyst Brad Sills warned investors in a recent note to clients.

Deals

  • Microsoft proposed making the “Call of Duty” video-game franchise available to Sony’s PlayStation for at least 10 years, as part of efforts to win regulatory approval for its $69 billion takeover of Activision Blizzard. (CNBC)

  • An array of SPACs have disclosed accounting weaknesses, giving critics more ammo for warnings about the risks of these blank-check funds. (FT)

  • Inside Blackstone’s decision to block withdrawals from its $125 billion real estate investment fund. (FT)

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Is Boris really the emissary that blockchain needs right now?

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With FTX in tatters, bitcoin in abeyance and the entire fundament of crypto finance in doubt, the technology of blockchain was badly in want of an image boost. What the distributed ledger technology needed, Singapore decided, was the rhetorical skills of former UK prime minister Boris Johnson to burnish its battered image, and here he was at a glittering gathering of the blockchain industry in a five-star hotel last week.

Blockchain in particular and innovation in general, Johnson explained, is always scary at first. “Humanity has been paranoid about this since the Titan Prometheus gave us the first flame,” he said, mixing classical reference and technological detail.

Johnson was giving the keynote speech for the International Symposium on Blockchain Advancements to 80 or so crypto enthusiasts who had braved Singapore’s tropical thundery showers to hear his insights. It felt a fitting location for the event in the same week that Singapore’s state-owned fund Temasek was facing scrutiny for ploughing $275mn into the collapsed crypto exchange FTX after eight-months of due diligence failed to flag up any big concerns. It is clear there was never enough paranoia or fear, one nonplussed conference-goer said after an hour of Johnson’s musings on Brexit, Australian submarines and his time at the Telegraph.

Beyond the free canapés and macarons, the event was hard to read as anything other than a plea from the blockchain industry to be taken seriously. Every sector is entitled to seek the endorsement of disgraced former leaders at times, but Johnson’s paeans of praise for Singapore Slings and his room at the famously expensive Raffles Hotel, delivered alongside his lauding of the potential of blockchain to a half-filled ballroom of men in suits, unsurprisingly was not the panacea for its woes.

One delegate, who gave his name as Kai and said he worked at a local crypto custodian start-up, was excited that someone “so famous” was speaking. What about Johnson’s position on digital currencies and the potential of blockchain? “Oh I don’t know about that,” Kai said with a nervous laugh.

A rare female attendee admitted that she was actually a journalist mainly trying to find out how much Johnson was being paid to headline the conference.

Against this backdrop, Britain’s former prime minister jovially assured the room of “blockchain pioneers” that they were in the right place, going on to remind his audience that technology is “morally neutral”. He dwelt at length on how doctors erroneously claimed in the early days of the railways that the rattling and jolting of trains was likely to cause sexual excitement, why the City of London is “the most productive place on Earth”, and something unclear about nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners. But it was not obvious how these digressions would bolster his case for blockchain.

He did eventually circle back to the technology and cryptocurrencies. He said he has “seen some pretty shocking headlines about this whole venture and we need some way of holding people to account”. But no sooner had he raised the subject of recent events in the cryptosphere than he moved swiftly on to topics closer to his heart: Brexit, the Ukraine war and green technology.

Then came his finale. “I will make a strong argument that the UK will become even more attractive as a place to invest once we deliver on all that Brexit stuff.” On blockchain, he added, he could not comment further without more details.

The blockchain enthusiasts seemed less than enthused. Someone showed enough interest to snap a photo only to be admonished by a man who rushed over hissing there was to be no photography.

The interviewer tried valiantly to bring Johnson back to blockchain. What was his overall message for innovators in the industry? “Apart from Singapore, which is a fantastic place for innovation, come to London. Come to the UK . . . It’s a fantastic country . . . it rains more in Rome by the way,” he replied. “I look forward to watching the progress of the blockchain industry with fascination,” he added to bemused applause.

mercedes.ruehl@ft.com

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