Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: December 2016

2016 at Uppsala University – in retrospect

With Christmas and the New Year drawing near, it feels natural to look back over the past year. How well have we lived up to the University’s slogan – a tradition of renewal since 1477? Pretty well, we’d be inclined to say.

We’re preserving and building. The University Main Building is undergoing a thorough renovation, while the Segerstedt Building and the Humanities Theatre are nearing completion. After alterations and extension, the Rudbeck Laboratory is ready to reopen in the New Year. Work has begun on a new premises supply plan looking towards 2050. We are laying the groundwork for the University’s future campus structure in a rapidly growing Uppsala.


We’re renewing our research. The University’s new research strategies, adopted during the autumn, foreground some of our areas of strength and show how we are meeting various societal challenges through targeted research initiatives in important areas such as antibiotics, racism and medical technology. As always, we emphasise that there is no opposition between striving for academic excellence and our equally important striving to benefit society – on the contrary, these objectives are mutually reinforcing. The concept of useful research must not be trivialised or ruled by short-term business sector interests or political preferences. The way to maximise the long-term contribution universities make to society is to defend our distinctive nature, integrity and autonomy.


We’re taking responsibility for quality. This year Uppsala University has launched a third university-wide research evaluation through our project Quality and Renewal 2017 (Q&R17). This time the focus is on analysing how the processes driving quality and renewal function in our research environments. A large-scale questionnaire survey has been conducted as well as bibliometric analyses. During the winter the departments will work on their self-evaluations and when spring is at its best in May international panels of experts will visit Uppsala. Turning to educational quality, a new system is being implemented in which we will evaluate all our programmes over a period of six years, including external review. The first pilot evaluations are already in progress.

We’re enhancing our internationalisation. We provide unique opportunities for our students to venture out into the world through some 500 agreements in more than 50 countries. The number of fee-paying students from countries outside Europe is increasing and we’re beginning to approach the levels we had before the tuition fees reform. If Sweden, as we have advocated in various forums during the year, succeeds in creating an effective scholarship programme for international students, the situation will improve further. We have co-founded a strong new European university network, the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, with 18 members to date. For several years, we have been working systematically to develop our international research partnerships, these days often arm in arm with other Swedish research universities. One example is the Swedish Academic Collaboration Forum (SACF), in which we are one of six Swedish universities together building relations with researchers in South Korea, Singapore, China (Shanghai), Indonesia and Brazil. In the Mirai project, we are one of seven Swedish higher education institutions jointly building up cooperative relations with leading Japanese universities. Our representation in Hanoi is being restaffed. Those of us in the University management have travelled a good deal during the year. The Management Council has visited universities in Germany and Switzerland, and in Oslo. Eva participated in the delegation of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering visiting Japan and in a vice-chancellors’ tour of South Africa and Botswana organised by the Swedish Higher Education Authority and the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education. Anders headed the Uppsala delegation on the SACF tour of Brazil.

Opening Symposium for the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities.

Opening Symposium for the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities.

Emphasis on sustainable development in education and research. During the year, we adopted our first programme and action plan for sustainable development. We also appointed an Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor, Anna Rutgersson, with special responsibility for these issues. Sustainable development is also a central theme in one of the three MOOCs that Uppsala University launched during the year: Climate Change Leadership. The other two are about antibiotic resistance and financial crises.


Anna Rutgersson, Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor for Sustainable Development.

Unprecedented external collaboration. During the year we adopted a new programme and action plan for external collaboration. Following our strategic partnership with ABB in 2015, we have entered into several equivalent or similar collaboration agreements in 2016, with Uppsala Municipality, NCC, Region Gotland and RISE Research Institutes of Sweden. We have organised AIMdays both at home and around the world. We have taken part in Vinnova’s pilot evaluations of higher education institutions’ collaboration strategies and their implementation, results and follow-up. Vinnova’s panel was not overly impressed with our work on collaboration and we are not impressed with how Vinnova and its panel work on the evaluation of collaboration. The debate will no doubt continue, particularly since the government has announced that it intends to make the quality of collaboration one of the parameters in its model for distributing the resources allocated for research, on a par with publications/citations and the ability to attract external research funding.

Infrastructure issues are increasingly prominent. Apart from the issue of premises for the University’s activities and housing for students and staff, we are wrestling with the issue of how to organise – and finance – our absolutely vital research infrastructure in the longer term. Here Kristina Edström is now taking over from Joseph Nordgren as Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor. Joseph has done a fantastic job making the entire University across the board aware of the importance of these issues and has made a great contribution to the emerging national system for addressing issues of coordination and prioritisation. Now we are beginning to see the dimensions and complexity of the challenge, which means that it ‘only’ remains to find the solutions. Thank you, Joseph, and good luck, Kristina!

Focus on skills provision. The targeted investments the University is making in increasing the number of career-development positions appears to be yielding dividends – the cost for the Vice-Chancellor’s strategic funds may be high, but we think it is worth it. A similar initiative to increase the number of international visiting professors has been launched this autumn. The old ‘professor programmes’ are being phased out and replaced with skills provision plans that apply a broader perspective to recruitment needs and recruitment strategy.


Uppsala University continues to be a local, national and international meeting place for knowledge, culture and critical dialogue, just as we set out in our Mission and Core Values. This year’s Uppsala Health Summit was about childhood obesity. The SANORD conference in Uppsala gathered participants from around 40 universities in the Nordic countries and southern Africa, including the President of Mauritius. The Dag Hammarskjöld lecture this year was delivered by Ban Ki-moon to a full house in the Blue Hall at Stockholm City Hall, as the University’s Grand Auditorium was closed for renovation. During Almedalen Week, Campus Gotland is probably the hottest meeting place in the country, and the Nobel lectures in December filled our lecture halls at Ångström, BMC and Ekonomikum to overflowing.


We have much to be pleased and proud about. We are consolidating Uppsala University’s status as a top-100 university – despite increasingly tough competition. Our programmes continue to attract many applicants, the most in the country in terms of total number of applicants to the autumn term’s courses. We continue to be successful in the tough competition for allocations from the Swedish Research Council; 16 per cent of the total funds granted were awarded to Uppsala. We continue to grow, albeit more slowly than over the past five-year period, and now have nearly 7,000 members of staff. This gives us good reason to celebrate properly on special occasions: our doctoral degree ceremonies in January and May, the inauguration of professors in November (this year, for the first time in history, with more women than men) and the various degree ceremonies are happy occasions when our hard-working students, doctoral students, teachers and researchers receive richly deserved recognition for their efforts.

The national arena affects us. In November, the government presented its research bill for this electoral period. It received (plenty of) criticism and (some) praise. It specifies certain important parameters for our activities in the years ahead. The government has announced special inquiries to examine the management and resource distribution systems, and internationalisation. Both of these inquiries are important and welcome. Two ongoing inquiries are examining the issues of admission to higher education and the treatment of research misconduct. The latter question has recieved a great deal of attention during the year following the tragic and shocking Macchiarini affair at Karolinska Institutet. During the past year, several other inquiries have delivered their reports: on career paths (Ann Fust), university management issues (Kåre Bremer) and development issues in the Gotland region (Peter Larsson). These are all inquiries in which we take an active interest in one way or another.


We live in an unsettled world. The year 2016 has been a distressing year at the international level. The horrific war in Syria continues. Refugee flows are increasing and reports of shipwrecks with tragic outcomes continue to reach us from the Mediterranean. The attempted coup in Turkey and the subsequent counter-reaction have demonstrated not least that academic freedom and the independence of the universities are fragile things. Europe has been shaken by terrorist attacks. The Brexit referendum and the presidential election in the United States show that the global openness we have associated with Western democracies cannot be taken for granted. All these developments place a responsibility on universities to stand up for the freedom of thought and not least to insist and seek to ensure that discourse on the development of society rests on respect for knowledge and facts.


Now we look forward to a well-deserved holiday, which we hope you will be able to spend with family and friends. We meet again in the New Year, for a new term when we will welcome new students to our University. Our best contribution to a better world is to continue to conduct research and education of the highest academic quality – in close collaboration and interaction with all other forces for good in society.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Eva Åkesson, Vice-Chancellor
Anders Malmberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor
Katarina Bjelke, University Director
Stellan Sandler, Vice-Rector
Torsten Svensson, Vice-Rector
Johan Tysk, Vice-Rector

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Festive week with overtones of Christmas

(Original Swedish post published 17 December, English version published 20 December.)

We’re happy to say that six Nobel Prize winners accepted our invitation and honoured Uppsala University by giving the traditional lectures here on St Lucia’s Day (Tuesday). Full houses in the lecture halls in the morning, and festive spirits at lunch at the Castle. This tradition dates back to 1902, when we first had a Nobel laureate visiting us. Chemistry laureate Ben Feringa comes from the University of Groningen, which of course we cooperate with closely in the U4 Group and the Guild. The President of the Board of Groningen University, Sibrand Poppema, and Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken accompanied their laureate to Uppsala and ended the day by attending a traditional St Lucia’s Day student party (‘Lussegasque’) with Anders. A great success!

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More Christmas events: We’ve already blogged about the University Board’s last meeting this year, followed by Christmas lunch, in a separate post.  On Monday the Vice-Chancellor’s Management Council looked back at the past year and then had Christmas lunch together, the Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy had its traditional Christmas party on Wednesday and on Thursday the staff at Campus Gotland had their Christmas party. St Lucia’s Day fika at the Uppsala University Student Union is another of our traditions. And Eva spoke at the universities’ Christmas service in Uppsala Cathedral on 15 December. This duty alternates between the vice-chancellors of Uppsala University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, and this year it was our turn. The week ended with an awards ceremony for students active in the student unions and nations, at which Anders gave a speech thanking all the students for their commitment and presented well-deserved diplomas.


But we have found time for other things this week too. Alexander von Gabain, who is Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Innovation and Commercial Outreach at Karolinska Institutet, visited us and met representatives of our innovation system. We see good potential for enhanced cooperation between Uppsala and Karolinska on support for innovations. Eva opened the Association of Swedish Higher Education conference on “Admission to Higher Education” with a presentation on broader recruitment, newcomers in Sweden, validation and lifelong learning. The conference examined issues relating to admission to higher education from various angles. Inquiry chair Jörgen Tholin briefed the participants on the thoughts and ideas of the Higher Education Admissions Inquiry. The current regulations for admissions to higher education are difficult to understand and unpredictable and we have great hopes that this will be remedied by the inquiry, which will deliver its report in March 2017.

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Report from the University Board meeting

(Original Swedish post published 15 December, English version published 16 December.)

On Tuesday the University Board convened at Scandic Hotel for its last meeting before the holidays. As usual, the meeting began with the Vice-Chancellor’s monthly report (pdf, in Swedish). The December report was mainly about the government’s research bill.

The meeting also gave the University Board an opportunity to go through the University’s risk analysis, which we have worked on in various constellations in the Management Council during the autumn. We also had a preliminary discussion on the University’s budget input – the points we want to bring to the government’s attention and that we want them to take into account when they draw up the government budget in coming years. As the government has just presented its research bill, which focuses on research issues, it is only natural that our budget input now emphasises education issues. One issue under discussion is increased resources for basic (undergraduate) education, where we would like more places to be available and higher compensation levels. In recent years, the humanities, social sciences, theology and law have benefited from quality increases but now it’s high time that laboratory-based programmes also received a boost.  We had a good discussion. Both the risk analysis and the discussion on the budget input are preparation for the University Board meeting in February, when the budget input and the annual report have to be finalised and sent to the government.

One important decision was that the University Board gave me a mandate to begin a review of the University’s Rules of Procedure. This document describes the responsibilities and roles of all the different parts of the University and work procedures at the University. For example: What decisions does a faculty board take? What are the responsibilities of a dean? How do we appoint heads of department, deans and vice-rectors at the University? The current Rules of Procedure are beginning to show their age. A year or so ago Kåre Bremer’s management inquiry addressed a number of issues that are now up for discussion. The consultation responses on the procedure for appointing a Vice-Chancellor also highlighted various issues that the review may address. It is important that the process is allowed to take time, that the entire University can get involved – students, teachers, researchers and other employees. I will have more to say about this in the new year.

I myself was not present for one of the main items on the day’s agenda. This item concerned procedures for appointing a vice-chancellor. I informed the University Board back in October that I am available for a further period if this is what the University wants. But the most important thing is to have good procedures and I hope that Tuesday’s decision will make that possible.  The final wording will soon be published on the University’s website.

The University Board is also the governing board of Uppsala University’s Foundations Management. Kent Berg from Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds gave a thorough presentation of the arrangements and routines for managing 601 foundations. Every year, the foundations contribute more than SEK 220 million towards the University’s activities. The money goes to research, PhD students, scholarships, premises, pensions and much more besides. Moreover, the foundations pay for our historic environments, gardens, music, museums and academic ceremonies. They make it possible for the University to do many things that we would otherwise not have been able to do. So now and then we should spare a grateful thought for King Gustav II Adolf and our other donors.

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Better opportunities for internationalisation

(Original Swedish post published 9 December, English version posted 12 December.)

On Thursday the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) had a breakfast meeting on internationalisation at which the IVA project Research Outlook presented a report on “Better opportunities for internationalisation of research and higher education”. (Swedish version here.) The project has analysed Sweden’s situation and potential for international cooperation and exchange, identified challenges and put forward a number of recommendations:

  1. Create a national internationalisation strategy
  2. Use broad bilateral research agreements to greater advantage
  3. Coordinate education and research
  4. Remove legal obstacles hindering higher education institutions
  5. Clarify responsibility for promotion and support
  6. Establish a national scholarship foundation for foreign students.


Senior Project Manager Martin Wikström presented the report and Deputy Director-General Kerstin Jacobsson from the Ministry of Education and Research commented on the presentation. To begin with she mostly talked about the Research Bill that was presented last Monday, but after that she focused on internationalisation. Jacobsson summarised impressions and questions that came up at the hearings the Ministry organised in autumn 2015 – mobility, tuition fees, promotion of Sweden, migration, whether or not we need an internationalisation strategy. An inquiry on internationalisation is planned, and Jacobsson stated clearly that it will include both education and research. And she welcomed the report as a constructive contribution to the work ahead. I was particularly pleased to hear that points 4 and 6 will be addressed in a fast-track process. Although we welcome the inquiry, it will take a long time and some issues are ripe for tackling immediately. So it was pleasing to hear that the issues of legal obstacles and scholarships will be addressed more quickly. I participated in the panel that discussed the report on Thursday morning, as a member of Research Outlook’s steering group.


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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.


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.


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.

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