Second Sunday in Advent

(Original Swedish version posted 4 December, English version posted 5 December.)

The weeks before Christmas speed by, and we’ve already reached the second Sunday in Advent. On Monday the long-awaited Research Bill was presented. Having heard others’ reactions, it’s fair to say we’re not the only ones to give the bill a lukewarm reception. For our own comments, see the last blog post.

The Vice-Chancellor spent all day Wednesday at a conference on the theme of ‘Equal education’ arranged by the Institute of Education Law at the Faculty of Law. The purpose of the Institute is to inspire and support research and education in the area of education law in Sweden, in the broadest possible way. Setting out from the broad academic environment offered by the University, the Institute’s brief is to promote the study and analysis of jurisprudential and related issues surrounding education at all levels, in a manner that is beneficial for Sweden. Read more about the Institute here. The conference on ‘Equal education’ certainly succeeded in this. Thank you for an inspiring day!

On Thursday Friends of Uppsala University had invited PhD alumni in and around Uppsala to an evening event. For many of them, the event was a fond reunion with their Alma Mater. We intend to step up our alumni activities and fundraising in the coming years. The Friends presented merit scholarships to six very deserving students now concluding their Master programmes.

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On Friday we signed an agreement of intent on enhanced collaboration with RISE Research Institutes of Sweden. The aim is to strengthen Swedish competitiveness and growth through increased collaboration between universities and industrial research institutes. Read about the agreement here.

In the coming week we would like to recommend ‘Åsikt Uppsala’ (‘Uppsala Opinion’) on Wednesday 7 December. The University and local newspaper UNT are holding an open panel discussion on newly arrived immigrants and the labour market. For the many people who have recently come to Sweden to create a new life for themselves, getting a job is key – both for their own self-esteem and for integration. The discussion will be held at Missionskyrkan, starting at 19:00.

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And then this weekend it was time for OD’s annual Caprice concert at the IFU arena. We’d like to thank OD and their guests for a successful concert and look forward to next year’s Caprice in the newly renovated University Main Building.

The Research Bill: right rhetoric but wrong practice

(Original Swedish post published 28 November, English version posted 29 November.)

So there it is at last, the Research Bill. The title this time is “Collaborating for knowledge – for society’s challenges and strengthened competitiveness”. Where the money is concerned, most of the contents were familiar after the Budget Bill and various signals earlier in the autumn. However, it’s interesting to see the government’s line of thinking on the conditions for research and the role of research in society, and the systemic changes discernible in and between the lines.

It’s easy to agree with the government’s overall objectives: “The goal of research policy is for Sweden to be one of the world’s foremost research and innovation countries and a leading knowledge nation, where high-quality research, higher education and innovation promote the development and wellbeing of society, enhance the competitiveness of the business sector, and respond to the challenges facing society in Sweden and globally.”

The basic appropriation will increase by SEK 1.3 billion in the period up to 2020. This increase comes with great expectations on the part of the government.  Higher education institutions are to make improvements in gender equality, external collaboration and practical applications, education and career opportunities for researchers, mobility, the link between research and education, and – not least – our responsibility for increasingly costly research infrastructure and participation in EU programmes.

At the same time, the government evidently wishes to spread the new appropriations among more HEIs rather than investing in the research universities that are home to most of the leading research and heavy infrastructure. If we also take into account that the basic appropriation is usually eaten away by about one per cent per year as a result of the system of incomplete salary and price indexing, it is extremely unclear whether Uppsala University, for example, will experience anything more than marginal real increases in the size of its basic appropriation over the next four years.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t add up – the increase in the share of basic appropriation funding that we considered essential to be able to take increased responsibility for career opportunities and infrastructure won’t materialise this time either.

There are some positive aspects. Several of the societal challenges that the government focuses on link up well with the areas that Uppsala University highlighted in our input and in our research strategies. This is emphatically the case for the ten-year research programmes planned in the areas of climate, building a sustainable society, migration and integration, antibiotic resistance, applied welfare research, and research on working life. Uppsala University can make substantial contributions in all these areas. It also applies to the initiatives for a stronger academic foundation for teacher education and schools, even if we would have liked to see more than a modest pilot project for combined appointments in academia and schools.

Otherwise, the key word in the government bill is collaboration. The planned initiatives linked to societal challenges such as the climate, digitalisation, health, building a sustainable society, and schools take collaboration as their starting point. The performance of HEIs in the area of external collaboration will have an increased influence on the distribution of the basic appropriation. We are seriously concerned about this last point. External collaboration is important – for the universities, the business sector and society alike. However, attempts in recent years to develop models to evaluate performance and quality in the area of external collaboration, under the auspices of Vinnova, have not generated data that can reasonably justify decisions on resource distribution. There are no good indicators for collaboration, and the assessment risks being arbitrary. The proposal to make the Swedish Higher Education Authority responsible for continued work on research quality assurance is interesting, but entails a drastic change in the Authority’s duties – and the skills it needs.

The government mentions a number of issues in the research bill that it plans to come back to. We had expected some clarifications regarding internationalisation and the possibility of participating in international cooperation. Resource distribution and management are other issues that will be examined in special inquiries.

Given the current state of government finances, we hardly counted on the government being able to manage major new initiatives. From that perspective, the overall level of the initiatives announced in the bill are in line with expectations. Having said that, the relatively modest investment in augmented basic appropriations, particularly combined with the distribution pattern announced, gives cause for disappointment and concern if we want to defend the ability of Swedish research universities to hold their own in the upper echelons of the global ranking lists. Perhaps it is significant that this is the first research bill in modern times that does not contain the word ‘research’ in the title.

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Review of management systems and resource allocation

(Original Swedish post published 24 November, English version posted 25 November.)

According to an article in the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet yesterday (in Swedish), the government is planning to conduct a review of management and resource allocation to higher education institutions. This is a good thing. The government has previously shown an interest in increasing basic appropriations and giving policies a more long-term perspective, and has also indicated that new management models are needed beyond the New Public Management model, which is increasingly criticised. This is in line with what Uppsala University has long been calling for so there is reason for optimism.

Having said that, the article hints that HEIs are not behaving properly and that firmer management is needed. The Minister says the government wants to give higher education institutions the conditions they need to meet the major challenges facing society, and talks about giving them incentives to develop their activities “in accordance with the laws, ordinances and objectives that the Swedish parliament and government have established for higher education and research.” Here it is important to recall another quality mentioned in the article – trust.

We by no means question the validity of checking that we perform our duties as a government agency in accordance with the rule of law and that we focus on quality in our activities. It is misdirected to suggest that Swedish higher education institutions are not doing their job properly and not following laws and regulations. We are doing so – even when it has absurd consequences and obviously gets in the way of our external collaboration and internationalisation, for example. But what the right conditions are for the best possible development of research and teaching must primarily be a question for the the higher education institutions to decide – in trust-based dialogue with partners in the business sector and public sector. Mutual respect for roles and integrity creates trust and confidence within a higher education institution and thereby the right conditions for development.

Regrettably, in recent times we have seen initiatives that tend in the opposite direction. Dalarna University has recently been forced to conduct education and research in two new locations – without the support of the higher education institution or its board being secured for this (Swedish article). Here, the institution’s own situation and strategic considerations were disregarded, which does not benefit development and quality. What we need is a well-rooted understanding of the factors that promote success in the academic world.

The Minister talks about the outcome of the relatively extensive investments in excellence and strategic research areas over the past decade in terms of unwanted effects such as the concentration of resources to a few higher education institutions. From the perspective of Swedish research universities this is disturbing. If Sweden is to be a knowledge nation with leading research universities, we must dare to concentrate our efforts around the environments where the conditions for conducting world-leading research are best.

Opening symposium of The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities

(Original Swedish post published 21 November, English version posted 22 November.)

Today we (Eva Åkesson, Anders Malmberg, Katarina Bjelke and Kay Svensson) are in Brussels along with representatives of some twenty other leading research universities in Europe for the opening symposium of a new network, The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities. Our aim is that the network will give Uppsala University a more distinct presence in Brussels, which we hope will increase our opportunities to influence European research and education policies.

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Europe faces many challenges and the universities have much to contribute. We see a great need to improve the dialogue between research and politics on important future issues. The refugee crisis, threats to democracy and the freedom of expression, increased social exclusion, antibiotic resistance, energy and sustainable development are some of the issues the network’s universities are working on at local, regional, national and international level. One of the activities will therefore be something that goes under the working name ‘Policy Labs’, and which is envisaged as dialogue between politicians, officials and researchers on these and other topical issues. The Guild’s first symposium was on open science and open innovation.

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The network fits in naturally with Uppsala University’s activities. International contacts and exchanges of knowledge are part of our everyday life. Students and researchers collaborate around the globe. This also fits in well with the government’s objective that Sweden should be a leading knowledge nation. EU cooperation has a major part to play in achieving this. EU resources provide a considerable proportion of funding for research projects. The total value of projects in which Uppsala University is participating stands at around EUR 50 million.

This being so, it feels absurd that we – one of the initiators of the network – are not allowed to become a full member yet. Instead, we have to wait for approval from the Riksdag (the Swedish Parliament). This is a consequence of the organisational status of Swedish universities.

Swedish higher education institutions are restricted and obstructed by the Riksdag’s calendar and regulatory complications. As a result, we risk missing out on opportunities to swiftly take our place and act in international connections, and being perceived as difficult to work with. Many issues are settled in the opening stages of a cooperative venture so it’s important to take part from the start. This is just one of the unnecessary obstacles to the increased internationalisation of higher education institutions – there are many others. We have delivered a list to Minister for Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson, specifying problems that must be resolved in the inquiry on internationalisation. Now we expect action to address them. If Sweden is to continue to develop as a nation of research and education, the higher education institutions need more freedom to act. This is in everyone’s interest.

Historic Inauguration of Professors

(Original Swedish post published 18 November, English version posted 21 November.)

Today we formally installed 45 new professors at the University. The grand ceremony in the Cathedral was the culmination of a week in which the new professors have been in the spotlight. They have given inaugural lectures in the lecture hall at Museum Gustavianum. The broad range of topics offered the audience a fascinating sample of many aspects of our multifaceted University.

Read about the professors and their research.

An inauguration of professors is always a historic occasion. However, this year it is noteworthy that women were in the majority for the first time since we started holding collective inaugurations of professors in 2000. The ratio was 23 women to 22 men. We are moving in the right direction towards a gender-equal university!

The ceremony in the Cathedral began with music played by the Academic Orchestra. After that, I gave the traditional Vice-Chancellor’s inauguration address, in which I drew attention to some principles that our new professors must bear in mind. I also took up certain problems the government needs to resolve if we are to be the university Sweden so sorely needs.

The inauguration had a full programme. Inaugural lectures were given by:

  • Per Andrén: Brain diseases – and new opportunities to understand them
  • Charlotte Platzer Björkman: From sunlight to electricity through new materials
  • Dag Blanck: Is the United States different?

In addition, we honoured some of our skilful teachers, who received the Distinguished Teaching Award. This year’s recipients were:

  • Senior Lecturer Sina Tezel, Department of Linguistics and Philology
  • Senior Lecturer Per Engström, Department of Economics
  • Lecturer Per Holmfeldt, Department of Medical Cell Biology
  • Lecturer Johan Larsson, Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Senior Lecturer David Black-Schaffer, Department of Information Technology

Read the jury citations here.

The University’s innovation prize Hjärnäpplet, awarded to a researcher or research student for an outstanding transfer of academic knowledge that has resulted in an innovation, was also presented. This year it went to Maria Strömme, Professor of Nanotechnology.

I would like to thank everyone who participated and everyone who contributed to making the day a splendid showcase for the University and our activities. You make me feel proud and impressed.

Weekend train outing through Europe

(Original Swedish post published 13 November, English version posted 15 November.)

Groningen, Göttingen and Zürich are the stops on my itinerary from Friday to Monday. On Friday and Saturday, a delegation of about ten people from Uppsala University was in Groningen for the ninth meeting of university heads in the U4 network. U4 is a relatively small network of universities consisting of Uppsala, Groningen, Ghent and Göttingen. We collaborate in four clusters (lead institution in parentheses):

  • Humanities (Ghent)
  • Social sciences (Göttingen)
  • Medicine and pharmacy (Groningen)
  • Science and technology (Uppsala)

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Institutional management is a further area of cooperation. Several welcome initiatives are in progress, for example a leadership programme now ending its second round, with a third round due to begin in autumn 2017. We have successfully collaborated in many EU projects, particularly Erasmus mobility projects in Africa and Asia. Topics discussed during the meeting included double/joint degrees for PhD students, summer schools, and other ways of collaborating on doctoral education. Various peer review exercises have been carried out. One of these, on sustainability, was reported on at the meeting. Green Offices is something Uppsala University has been inspired by and would like to try out in future. Two new areas we would like to work on together in future are procedures for post docs and career paths for young academics. In U4 we highlight good practice and learn from one another. Overall I was impressed by all the clusters this time and by the way in which collaboration is now yielding results. It takes a few years to get a network to function and we should remember this now when we are soon to begin working in the Guild, in which all four U4 universities will participate.

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On Sunday I took the opportunity to visit Göttingen, where the President, Ulrike Beisiegel, briefed me on their preparations for the German excellence initiative and showed me the campus, including visits to some of their museums. I carried on south by train on Sunday afternoon. And there are delayed and cancelled trains in Germany too. Complaints about poor maintenance were heard when the delayed train came to a standstill halfway and we had to crowd into an already packed train in Frankfurt. Now I’m sitting on my way to Zürich several hours later than planned but hope to reach my destination before midnight. On Monday morning I will attend a conference on “Women and Leadership in Academia” and will try to say something clever in the panel debate I will be participating in.

On Tuesday morning I’ll be back in Uppsala and I look forward to the inauguration of 45 new professors in the cathedral on Friday. Don’t miss their lectures this week!

Dialogue on Swedish Higher Education Authority evaluations

(Original Swedish post published 11 November, English version posted 15 November.)

On Friday the Swedish Higher Education Authority held a dialogue seminar in Stockholm. The focus was on the Authority’s proposed “Guidance on review of quality assurance at higher education institutions”, which is intended in the first instance to govern the pilot evaluations carried out in 2017, but which of course may guide the new evaluation system in general. The participants from Uppsala were the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (writing here), Åsa Kettis (who drafted some of the material for this blog post) and Maria Wollters from the Division for Quality Enhancement.

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The new national quality system is basically good. It gives the higher education institutions (HEIs) greater ownership of quality assurance of individual programmes and encourages an all-round perspective on educational quality, as it encompasses preconditions, processes and outcomes. This improves conditions for quality enhancement and makes it possible to adapt the evaluation to optimally suit each programme. This change gives Sweden a similar system that to the one used in most other countries, such as our neighbours and the UK. Uppsala University has already reacted and is now starting to implement its own model of educational evaluation, in accordance with the Vice-Chancellor’s decision – a model designed with the extensive involvement of the University.

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In the new national system, the Swedish Higher Education Authority will check that the HEIs’ quality systems work, and Friday’s meeting focused on the model to be used in this connection. The Authority’s model focuses on four ‘aspect areas’:

  • management and organisation
  • environment, resources and area
  • design, implementation and outcomes
  • follow-up, measures and feedback.

These in turn are analysed from three ‘perspectives’:

  • undergraduate and doctoral students
  • the world of work
  • gender equality.

Each aspect area includes several aspects and for each aspect a number of criteria are specified. Even though many of the criteria are reasonable and derive from Swedish legislation and/or European Standards and Guidelines (ESG), the overall picture is complicated. The terminology contributes to this. For most of us, ‘aspects’ and ‘perspectives’ are completely synonymous terms, so it is unclear how they differ from one another.

Otherwise, we think the Swedish Higher Education Authority’s proposal gets it wrong primarily on one key point. In the new national system, the HEIs can initiate their own educational evaluations with external review if they consider this appropriate, but the Authority does not actuall expect this of them. This is aiming low, and in practice means that not all education will be subject to external review, which is a step backward compared with the system between 2011 and 2014. Uppsala University and some other HEIs, such as the University of Gothenburg, are now launching ambitious systems in which in principle, over a six-year cycle, all education will undergo a full evaluation based on ESG and including external review. This is the most important, and most substantial, component of Uppsala’s new quality assurance system.

If an HEI chooses to introduce such a system, you might think the Authority’s review of the HEI should primarily focus on ensuring that the educational assessments work and fulfil their purpose. However, the proposed model has no such focus, and this is unfortunate. Local systems involving external educational evaluations are more results-oriented and considerably sharper than other systems, but this is not clearly acknowledged by the Authority. One proposal that came up at the seminar was that HEIs that have their own educational evaluations should be subject to a more focused and less comprehensive assessment than those that do not. This would be more appropriate and would enable the Authority to conduct better-focused HEI reviews at a lower cost. It would undoubtedly be a more rational and efficient arrangement.

At the seminar, the Authority also presented a timetable for its enitre evaluation programme over the six-year period 2017–2022 (link). In the new national system, the Authority will conduct four types of assessments/reviews:

  • assessments of degree-awarding powers
  • reviews of HEI quality assurance
  • educational evaluations
  • thematic evaluations.

In 2017 a number of doctoral education subjects at Uppsala University will undergo evaluation by the Authority: computer science, economics, ethics and the history of religions, art history, education, psychology/applied psychology, and history. According to plan, Uppsala will then undergo an HEI review in 2020 (along with Lund, Gothenburg, Stockholm and Linköping). Read more about the timetable here (in Swedish).

Management Council visits Oslo University

(Originally posted in Swedish on 7 November 2016.)

Today the University’s Management Council visited the University of Oslo. It was a stimulating visit. It’s inspiring and useful to hear what other universities do. We can also see that we have more in common than we have differences. Many of the challenges are the same, such as recruitment, career development positions, research infrastructure and internationalisation.

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Just like Uppsala, the University of Oslo is a broad, multidisciplinary university. We share the same values of academic freedom and the university’s role in society, and will be partners in the new European network, the Guild. We already engage in extensive cooperation now and have identified further potential areas for cooperation, such as antibiotic resistance and languages.

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I would like to say a big thank you to Rector Ole Petter Ottersen for a fine programme. We look forward to continued cooperation and hope to meet again soon. We promise you a warm welcome in Uppsala!

The Bologna Process – with a feeling of déjà vu

(Originally posted in Swedish on 3 November 2016.)

Over the past two days I participated in “Working Group: New Goals”, a meeting in Stockholm of the working group developing new goals ahead of the next ministerial meeting in the Bologna Process/EHEA, which will take place in Paris in 2018. The theme for the first day was Competencies and the theme for the second day was Digitalisation, when one of the speakers was Alastair Creelman from Linnaeus University, whose topic was “What is the role and impact of digitalisation on higher education? How can it be used to support teaching and learning at institutions, at the same time widening the access to higher education?”

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Part of the presentation was “MOOCs – the story so far”. MOOCs obviously come in various forms and have various purposes. Not all of them are massive, and not all of them are open. They may be intended as a teaser for an educational programme or as part of lifelong learning, and various hybrid models are being developed. Uppsala University is currently offering three MOOCs, the first of which, on antibiotic resistance, has just ended. But the second MOOC, Climate Change Leadership, starts on Monday – take the opportunity to try a MOOC if you haven’t done so yet, you can log in now. I can tell you, they’re rather addictive, right now I’m following a MOOC at Glasgow University on “The Right to Education: Breaking Down the Barriers.”

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The meeting gave a feeling of déjà vu, particularly when State Secretary Karin Röding opened the meeting and welcomed us. I was most active in the Bologna Process 8 or 10 years ago, as a Bologna promoter, Bologna expert and national academic contact point (NACP) for quality assurance (QA). Karin Röding was a director at the Government Offices at the time and very active in these issues, perhaps most significantly through her work on the government bill “New world – new university”, which tackled three areas:

  • Making higher education more international and more attractive.
  • A clearer, internationally comparable degree system.
  • Fairer, clearer and simpler admission rules.

It was in 2007 that Swedish higher education was given a three-level structure: first, second and third cycle. New degree descriptions were also introduced, specifying goals/expected learning outcomes, specialisation requirements defined in numbers of credits and qualitative requirements, and the exact number of credits required for degrees. I’m sure many of you remember how we had to define the level of all courses unambiguously in terms of goals/expected learning outcomes. All the syllabuses, everywhere in Sweden, were rewritten, masses of Master programmes were created and I talked about ‘Master mania’. The term ‘poäng’ (credit) was replaced by ‘högskolepoäng’ (higher education credit) and a standard academic year was defined as 60 higher education credits. I still feel grateful for the conversion table we were given that helped us to convert 1 credit to 1.5 higher education credits, 5 credits to 7.5 higher education credits – we’d never have managed without that table.

Perhaps I should write a few lines about the Bologna Process in general while I’m at it, it’s easy to take it for granted that everyone was there and remembers all about it. The Bologna Process is a European initiative launched by the Bologna Declaration, which was signed by 29 ministers in 1999. The overall goal was to make Europe more attractive, and to promote mobility and employability – a much debated concept. The operational goals were the adoption of a system of easily readable and comparable degrees, the introduction of a system consisting principally of three educational levels (cycles) and a system of credits, and the promotion of mobility, European cooperation in quality assurance and the European dimension in higher education. Other areas were gradually added, such as lifelong learning, the social dimension.

Today, 48 countries participate, ministerial meetings are held at longer intervals and the Bologna Process doesn’t have the intensity and tempo that it did ten years ago. Nonetheless, it’s a tool that we can use for working on higher education issues in Europe, we have a common arena and we have a language that enables us to pursue development together – and this mustn’t be underestimated.

Anders Wall Lectures at packed UKK

Today’s Anders Wall Lectures attracted a full house at Uppsala Konsert & Kongress. This was the thirteenth annual event and this year too we had the pleasure of hearing inspiring speakers talking about their entrepreneurship. Their stories varied widely, even if they had certain things in common. What strikes me is the enthusiasm, the energy and the courage of these people who have all, in different ways, dared to do or stand up for something they believe in. Thank you for sharing your experience with us all so generously! And many thanks to everyone who helped to make this afternoon a success!

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This year’s Anders Wall lecturers were:

  • Anders Johnson, economist, author, speaker, panelist, business operator and former editor-in-chief of Dagens Nyheter.
  • Camille Sucasas Gottfridson, student and founder of the company Macacos – Brazilian Superfruits.
  • Pär Svärdson, entrepreneur behind the successful companies Adlibris, Apotea and Babyland.
  • Siavosh Derakhti, social entrepreneur and founder of the network Youth against anti-Semitism and Xenophobia (UMAF).
  • Hannah Widell and Amanda Schulman, authors and founders of Perfect Day Media.

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The annual Uppsala Student of the Year award has been awarded for the seventeenth time. It is awarded to a student who has distinguished themselves through their good, creative efforts at Uppsala University, actively participated in student union and/or student nation activities, made special efforts in support of other students, or engaged in entrepreneurship in connection with their studies.  This year’s Uppsala Student of the Year is Allen Ali Mohammadi.

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The prize citation is as follows:

Allen Ali Mohammadi is taking the Master Programme in Energy Technology. Allen is a visionary, an entrepreneur and an inventor who inspires other students. He started his first company when he was just 12 years old. Alongside good grades at Uppsala University, he has developed a prize-winning tool for early diagnosis of heart diseases, called ‘Heartstrings’. The tool integrates data from blood tests, electrocardiograms and demographic information and matches them against statistical comparisons of characteristic symptoms of the illness. The tool, which has been tested and validated on 500 patients, can save time and resources for doctors, hospitals, care providers, insurance companies and other similar actors in society. Allen is a good ambassador for Uppsala University and Sweden, and has won several national and international awards. He is a true enthusiast, changing society with his ambition and capacity for innovation.