Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: September 2016

Management Council in Tartu and Tallinn

(Original Swedish post published 29 September, English version published 10 November.)

We’re continuing our visits to universities in our region, partly as study visits and partly to deepen cooperation. Now it was the turn of universities in Estonia. First we visited the University of Tartu, formerly known as the University of Dorpat, which was the second Swedish university when it was founded in 1632 – Uppsala University, as I’m sure you all know, was the first. This is a university we share a common history with, one of the figures we have in common being Johan Skytte, who was the university’s first chancellor in 1632–1634. And their constitution was based on ours – perhaps it’s time to start thinking about reintroducing a constitution at our university?


We already both belong to the European network the Coimbra Group and Tartu, like Uppsala University, will be a member of the new network the Guild, so we will have a lot to do with each other in future. During the visit we presented our universities to each other, and discussed challenges and future cooperation. Several suggestions and ideas came up and there are plans for a delegation from Tartu to come to Uppsala University next spring. A group from the Faculty of Law was also with us to discuss enhanced cooperation. There is a news item about our visit on the University of Tartu website.


In the evening we attended the opening of the Estonian National Museum, where we ran into a delegation from Uppsala Municipality who were also visiting. Uppsala and Tartu are twin towns. Tomorrow we will be moving on to Tallinn, where we will meet representatives of Tallinn University and Tallinn University of Technology at the Swedish Embassy. Earlier today we had the great pleasure of meeting Ambassador Anders Ljunggren here in Tartu.


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The Senate – conference on Gotland

(Original Swedish post published 25 September, English version posted 10 November.)

Just over three years have now passed since the merger with Gotland University College and the establishment of Campus Gotland. Last autumn the process was evaluated by Lars Haikola and we received 17 proposals and recommendations, most of which have already been acted on. Our appropriation directions instruct us to create an environment for full university-standard research and education and our own strategy documents set the goal of 1500 full-time equivalent students on Campus Gotland.

We have made good progress but more remains to be done. When the Academic Senate held its conference in Visby last week, the areas discussed were: Sustainable tourism, Game design, Cultural heritage node, and e-learning. The senators outlined many ideas in their report to Olle Jansson, Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor. During the Vice-Chancellor’s dialogue with the senators, I took up the meeting with the Minister on the day before the Budget Bill, summarised here in the previous blog post.

During the week, a delegation from Hallym University in South Korea visited the Faculty of Medicine for an eighth joint symposium, this time on the theme of antibiotic resistance. Previous symposiums have concerned a range of areas, such as: “Current Issues in Medicine and Surgery”, “Tissue Engineering & Regenerative Medicine”, “Biomarkers: From Bench to Clinic”, “Advances in Imaging” and “Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine”. Further symposiums are planned, hopefully including participants from other faculties as well.

More housing is needed – we’ve all heard about it often enough. So I’m happy to be able to say that 264 rooms/flats for international students were opened last week at Kungsgatan 27. And at the same time, a building project to provide 37 flats for visiting researchers/teachers began at Villavägen 9.

The week concluded with the Martin H:son Holmdahl lecture, delivered by the winner of the 2015 Martin H:son Holmdahl Scholarship, Associate Professor Helene Lööw. Her lecture was entitled: “The language of hate and the practice of hate: On the symbiosis between language and crime”. The Martin H:son Holmdahl Scholarship for promotion of human rights and liberties was established in 2003. You are welcome to nominate a deserving person or group for the 2016 scholarship. Nominations should be sent to the scholarship committe with an explanatory statement by 13 October, via nominera@uadm.uu.se.

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Budget Bill and university management

(Original Swedish post published 21 September, English version published 10 November.)

Today a seminar was held for vice-chancellors and chairs of the boards of higher education institutions in Sweden. I participated along with the deputy chair of the University Board, Gunnar Svedberg.

Minister for Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson started proceedings with a presentation of the government’s Budget Bill for 2017. Previous ministers have invited us vice-chancellors for an advance briefing a week or so before the Budget Bill was made public, but this time the Minister chose to do so after the event. Much is already known, but it’s still interesting to hear the Minister present the information in a single package. I will attempt to summarise some impressions below.


To begin with, the Minister gave a positive picture of the situation in Sweden. Lower youth unemployment, combined with smaller youth cohorts, has reduced the pressure of applications at certain higher education institutions. Education and research enjoy a strong position in Sweden – central government allocates SEK 67 billion, which corresponds to 1.7% of GDP, a high figure compared with other OECD countries. If student finance is included, the total is SEK 77 billion. There are 400,000 students in Sweden, 68,000 degrees are awarded per year and the general level of education is rising. According to the Minister, education pays off: a high proportion of people with post-secondary education obtain regular employment. Ms Knutsson also noted that an increasing number of PhD students hold paid positions from the very start of their doctoral education (now 66%).

The initiatives in the Budget Bill come chiefly in the area of teacher education. Naturally we are happy that Uppsala University is entrusted with responsibility for part of the expansion planned in the coming years.

Increased basic appropriations for research have long been promised. This promise was made as long as two years ago in the annual Statement of Government Policy. Unfortunately there will be no increase in 2017, but the basic appropriations will gradually increase in 2018–2020, by a total of SEK 1.3 billion. The Minister hopes this will contribute to an increase in the number of young researchers and generate new research, not just bolster existing rersearch. The research bill will contain increases totalling SEK 2.8 billion in the years up to 2020. Most of this will go to Vinnova (the Swedish innovation agency), Formas (the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning), the Swedish Research Council, Forte (the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare), and RISE Research Institutes of Sweden. Along with many others, we have emphasised the need for increased basic appropriations and explained that the high proportion of external funding of research in Sweden makes it difficult for higher education institutions to ensure attractive career paths and manage infrastructure issues responsibly. In this respect, the coming Budget Bill is a disappointment. The proportion of external research funding will not decrease; instead, it will increase. If you also take into account the fact that certain providers of funds require a high proportion of co-financing, that Akademiska Hus wants to charge higher rents, and that price and salary indexing regularly fails to keep pace with real cost increases – then not much is left of the increase in basic appropriations.

The Minister also emphasised there would be more stringent follow-up and evaluation and that she wants to see increased gender equality, increased external collaboration, attractive career paths (increased predictability) and increased mobility, as well as a closer link between research and education. Teacher education will be subject to special follow-up. Asked directly about FOKUS (the Swedish Research Council’s proposal on national evaluation of research), the Minister replied: The Swedish Research Council is not to go any further with this concept, the higher education institutions are to continue to conduct their own evaluations so as to be able to make their own choices. Possibly some thematic evaluation may be carried out at some future time, but the higher education institutions themselves are to conduct the important evaluation. Of course this is exactly what Uppsala University is doing in our Q&R17!

Three subjects were discussed under the heading “Looking ahead”:

  1. Management – there may be an inquiry on achieving better performance management, so as to guarantee the highest educational quality, the higher education landscape could be more multifaceted – this is now being prepared.
  2. Internationalisation – there will be an inquiry covering both education and research, the Minister noted that suggestions in this area have come in from the sector, and we have been involved here, for example through our seminar at Almedalen.
  3. Lifelong learning – with reference to Lars Haikola’s earlier inquiry, and the decreasing number of freestanding courses, the Minister talked about growing and changing direction, a reform for people’s freedom! How this is to be done is not yet clear.

The rest of the seminar was devoted to board and head of agency, our respective roles were pointed out, the importance of evaluating the work of the board was stressed. Ms Knutsson told us that particular emphasis would be given to “issues of order and orderliness” and that the board is responsible for ensuring that the university complies with legal regulations. These sorts of questions will be taken up more clearly in future annual ministry–university dialogues. We also had a presentation on the procedure for selecting external members now that the current boards’ term is due to expire in April 2017.

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An eventful week comes to a close

Last week was eventful. The public debate was dominated by intense reporting on the Macchiarini affair. Reports have now come in from three out of thirteen investigations. Many lessons need to be learned, much needs to be discussed. We haven’t seen the end of this story yet.

But so many other things happened as well.

The week began with ABB’s centenary celebrations in Västerås. ABB became one of Uppsala University’s strategic partners about a year ago now. These days it’s a global company, but it remains an important part of Swedish industrial history with a tradition of innovation and new ideas. ABB is a future employer for many of our students and we have research cooperation in several areas, mostly in engineering and technology, though we also discussing other fields.


This week I also had the pleasure of welcoming around 150 delegates to Uppsala and the SANORD Conference. Academic leaders from a total of 44 universities in southern Africa and the Nordic countries gathering to discuss common issues. The organisation was founded in 2007, former Deputy Vice-Chancellor Kerstin Sahlin played a major role in its formation. The theme of this sixth conference, which lasted for three days, was Beyond Public Management. One of our alumni, now President of Mauritius, gave the opening address, followed by Kerstin Sahlin. I have the honour of chairing SANORD during the coming two-year period. We in Uppsala have reason to feel satisfied and pleased to have hosted a good event.

On Friday the Government announced a Research initiative on major challenges for society. The areas of priority are health and life sciences, the challenge of climate change, digitalisation and building a sustainable society. Themes that very much match Uppsala University’s priority areas. Between 2017 and 2020, the appropriations for this initiative will gradually increase to SEK 680 million. The funds will be subject to competition and will be distributed by the Swedish Research Council, Formas (the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning), Forte (the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare) and the Swedish National Space Board. Needless to say, increased appropriations are pleasing, but it’s difficult to assess the whole package yet. The Government is presenting its proposals little by little. More information is expected in the Budget Bill on 20 September and further clarification will come in the Research Bill.

On Saturday the whole city opened up in glorious late summer weather for Uppsala’s annual Culture Night. A plethora of activities from early morning till late at night. And we opened the University’s doors too. There’s so much going on you want to be in several places at once. One of the highlights this year is the comic strip exhibition KABOOM!! at the University Library, Carolina Rediviva. An exciting and surprising exhibition has been put together, drawing on the Library’s ample collections. There, you  and I can learn loads about the history of comic strips, modern comic strips and the Uppsala connection. I’m particularly pleased that this is a joint project between the Department of Literature and the University Library. Did you know that the Phantom – the ‘Ghost who Walks’ – has been in Uppsala twice? His last visit was during the Linnaeus jubilee in 2008. The exhibition is on until 4 January, don’t miss it!

Another recurring highlight of Culture Night is awarding the Disa Prize at Studentbokhandeln. This year’s prizewinner – the sixteenth – is Professor of Astronomy Bengt Gustafsson. He wins the prize for his book Svarta hål (Black Holes). I can really recommend it, it stimulates your curiosity, it’s exciting, it gives you new perspectives and new knowledge. In accordance with tradition, he then gave a lecture at Museum Gustavianum. If you missed the lecture – read the book. The prize was established by my predecessor Bo Sundqvist at the initiative of former Chief Librarian Thomas Tottie. Both of them were present in the crowd at the bookshop. The aim of the prize is to honour and encourage popular science writing. And to make the world more understandable.


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