Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: January 2017

Splendid and dignified Winter Conferment Ceremony

(Original Swedish post published 28 January, English version posted 30 January.)

Today was the day of the Winter Conferment Ceremony. This time, 61 new doctors and 16 honorary doctors received their hats and laurel wreaths. In addition, the University celebrated 14 prizewinners.

In my speech I congratulated the new doctors and thanked the honorary doctors and prizewinners on behalf of the University. I also took the opportunity to convey our views on the government research bill that was presented nearly two months ago. Read the speech here.

As usual, the Conferment Ceremony was splendid, interesting and dignified. I am happy and proud that the University is able to celebrate its new doctors with beautiful music, inspiring speeches and appropriate ceremony. Many thanks to everyone involved.

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New regional expansion of higher education institutions?

Hardly had I pressed the button to publish my comment that the minister hadn’t said much that was new in Steningevik when a Swedish Government Official Report (2017:1) entitled “For rural Sweden – a cohesive policy for work, sustainable growth and welfare”, arrived in my inbox. In Chapter 4, “Skills provision”, I read as follows (page 119 onward):

The Committee’s proposal: Higher education institutions will be instructed to increase the accessibility of higher education throughout the country.

The Government will review the indicators in the resource allocation system with a view to making educational programmes more relevant to local labour markets.”

The Committee’s proposal: The government will ensure that there are centres for higher education in municipalities in functional analysis regions that lack higher education institutions and have few learning centres, and in municipalities affected by the Committee’s business sector package for municipalities facing particularly serious challenges.

An annual government grant will be introduced to enable rural areas to establish and develop centres for higher education.

The Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy will be instructed to follow up and evaluate the educational centres initiative.”

After I had read this, my notes from Steningevik about what Minister Helene Hellmark Knutsson had said about the upcoming inquiry on resource allocation and governance took on a completely different meaning. As did her responses to questions about regional campuses for higher education institutions.  I find it a little strange that she didn’t mention this inquiry explicitly to us vice-chancellors on Tuesday.   Is a new wave of regional expansion of higher education institutions on the way, with learning centres? Over the past 10 years, several higher education institutions have reduced or ended their activities in various places, for reasons of quality. Are these now to be restored?  After the governing board of Dalarna University had initiated a discussion on campus locations, the university received notice in its appropriation directions last autumn that it must have activities in Borlänge. 35 vice-chancellors protested in an opinion piece (in Swedish). It is becoming increasingly obvious that the higher education institution’s own autonomy no longer extends to deciding about campus locations and the whereabouts of its activities.

We are a referral body for the inquiry so we will have to return to this issue in our consultation response, which is due by 22 March.

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Steningevik – the annual meeting of vice-chancellors with the minister

(Original Swedish post published 25 January, English version published 26 January.)

I’ve just come home and will try to sum up my impressions from the annual meeting of vice-chancellors with the Minister for Higher Education and Research in Steningevik. It has become a tradition for the Swedish Higher Education Authority and the Association of Swedish Higher Education to organise these occasions at which we vice-chancellors have a chance to meet the minister and ask questions. Day two focuses on what’s going on at the Swedish Higher Education Authority. I appreciate the opportunity to meet my fellow vice-chancellors, it gives us a chance to discuss many other issues of common interest.

Helene Hellmark Knutsson started out by talking about current politics and then went on to issues of more specific concern to the higher education sector.  This was the minister’s third time in Steningevik and it showed: she is now very familiar with the issues. She began by emphasising that she sees universities as important actors, we are institutions that advance democracy and stand for academic freedom. In these times, it is important that higher education institutions can take on this role. The minister reminded us of the question that was in focus last year, which was the reception of refugees. She feels that issue is now under control. There’s a lot going on politically: she mentioned Brexit, which has dominated EU politics, and Trump as the new US President. She said that we don’t know how this will affect issues such as free trade, abortion rights, attitudes towards climate change. But she emphasised that both these developments have come about as a result of democratic votes.

The research bill that was presented nearly two months ago will be processed in March, first by the parliamentary committee and then by the Riksdag. Government bills always contain many issues that will be dealt with more precisely later. These formulations are very deliberate, the minister explained that the government wants to have freedom of manoeuvre in the Riksdag. So much preparation is in progress and further inquiries are on the way: internationalisation and governance and allocation of resources – all important issues for us. She actually said very little that was new, we’ve heard most of it before. But it’s still useful to listen and have a chance to ask questions.

Representatives from the Swedish Higher Education Authority told us about future plans for research evaluation. And what they arfe doing first is to wait for instructions, which seems wise since they actually haven’t yet received any such formal instructions. In the meantime they’re looking at international developments, at what higher education institutions have done and what lessons can be learned. The Authority intends to work with reference groups and advisory groups, in a similar way to when methods for educational evaluations were developed. Dialogue with the sector was stressed. All this sounds good. We have long campaigned for a sensible system and division of responsibilities for evaluations in Sweden. Now we have come a fair way where educational evaluations are concerned and research evaluations can turn out well too as long as developments at the higher education institutions are respected. We ourselves, of course, are busy with our own research evaluation Q&R17, and the pilots on the education side will get going this year.

What I’m concerned about is collaboration. The bill indicates that the performance of higher education institutions in the area of external collaboration will have an increased influence on the distribution of the basic appropriation for research. I am extremely sceptical about this. Currently there are neither clear definitions nor reasonable quality indicators for collaboration. Attempts in recent years to develop models to evaluate performance and quality in the area of external collaboration, under the auspices of the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova), have been useful exercises in some ways but are far from satisfactory as a basis for decisions on resource allocation.

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Semester kick-off for Management Council

(Original Swedish post published 19 January, English version posted 20 January.)

Every semester, the Management Council starts up with an overnight conference. The Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University Director, vice-rectors, deputy vice-rectors, and some students and officials gather to discuss issues of general relevance. On this occasion, we spent 24 hours together at Krusenberg Herrgård.

In the autumn, we devoted the Management Council overnight conference and deans’ meeting to strategic intelligence and foresight. This time we turned our attention inwards to focus on what’s going on in our organisation and discuss our strategic priorities.


I kicked things off with an account of the external factors governing our activities – the Higher Education Act and Ordinance and our appropriation directions. Sometimes it’s useful to recall what they actually say. For example, sometimes people talk about ‘third stream activities’. These are no longer mentioned in the legislative text – it talks about education, research and collaboration. It also explicitly mentions the obligation to promote gender equality, broader recruitment and sustainable development. We also went over our own governance documents – our Mission and Core Values, other statements of goals and strategies, programmes and action plans.

The first Management Council overnight conference with the present Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor took place in August 2012, also at Krusenberg Herrgård. It was then that we formulated our strategic priorities: quality, internationalisation, skills and careers, and infrastructure. The Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor went over what we had done about these issues up to now, how we had gone about it and how we intend to continue. Wednesday’s programme continued with the vice-rectors, students and administration presenting how they are putting the priorities into practice in their particular area and the challenges they foresee in the future.

It all added up to an impressive survey of everything that’s going on. It’s interesting to see that there is substantial agreement, though there are differences as well. Our conclusion was that we had come a long way in several areas but that the priorities generally still hold, though the emphasis and nuances vary.

We need to carry on working on some key issues. Perhaps the University needs an education strategy that encompasses the entire range of quality, internationalisation, careers and skills, and infrastructure? A strategy that takes a holistic approach and includes both educational development and study environments. Should we conduct a Quality and Renewal exercise for collaboration to map the University’s collaboration activities?

The second day’s exercises focused on social media. We learned about how the University is currently using social media for news coverage, strategic intelligence, research communication and student recruitment. During this session David Nygren and Joachim Ekström from the Communications Division were with us. The discussion after their presentation focused on what more we can do.  What sort of presence should we have in social channels? When should we not use social media? What is our responsibility as a university in a time of fact resistance? What sort of support do we need to develop for researchers, teachers and the management?

We had 24 hours of intense discussions which underlined how important it is to meet, discuss, learn more about one another’s areas and activities, and get to know one another a bit better. This will make it easier for us to work together in the Management Council moving forward. And it does no harm that we had a good time together.

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Quality Advisory Board conference

(Original Swedish post published 15 January 2017, English version posted 17 January.)

The Quality Advisory Board held its annual overnight conference on 11–12 January. This is when the Board has the chance to dig deeper into certain issues, discuss its working procedures and plan its activities. In addition to some progress reports – the Quality Advisory Board functions, for example, as a reference group for Q&R17 and for the self-evaluation component of the Swedish Higher Education Authority’s evaluation of Uppsala University’s measures to promote sustainable development – the focus this time was on two topics.

The topic for the first afternoon was “Quality and skills provision”. Some aspects discussed were the ongoing work on skills provision plans, how to further develop our recruitment processes to ensure that we succeed in recruiting teachers and researchers who will make the greatest possible contribution to quality enhancement at the University, and how we can use career support to enable our young teachers and researchers to develop professionally.

Day two was mainly devoted to “Evaluation and development in education, research and administration”. To begin with, Åsa Kettis described the changes in the Swedish evaluation landscape from 1993 (the higher education reform) to the present day. After that we discussed how to ensure that development and evaluation are more of a benefit than a burden, how to coordinate internal and external evaluations, and how to balance local and joint initiatives in the University. The discussion produced the following (among other) recommendations:

  • Give departments support in the form of background material and compilations of data, etc., to enable self-evaluations to focus on reflection and analysis.
  • Create a positive attitude towards evaluation and quality enhancement by clarifying the benefits and reporting results, spreading good practice, etc.
  • Take a research approach to evaluation, see it as part of academic activities.
  • Make sure to optimise the evaluation process over time by ‘evaluating the evaluations’, so as to only keep the elements that really ‘give something’. Avoid time-consuming data collection.
  • Think about how often to evaluate – on the basis of need, developments, continuity and resources. Don’t overuse the evaluation instrument and link it more clearly to measures in response.
  • Inform staff and plan well in advance on the basis of the known timetables and purposes of external evaluations, and avoid internal evaluations of things that are evaluated by other actors.

The conference was Anders’s last as chair of the Quality Advisory Board. The new chair, starting immediately, will be Professor Torsten Svensson, Vice-Rector of the Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences. Torsten, of course, previously led the work on developing the model for Uppsala University’s new quality assurance system for education. Good luck with this important and exciting responsibility, Torsten!

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Welcome back!

(Original Swedish post published 10 January, English version posted 11 January.)

Welcome back after the holidays – and Happy New Year! We will soon be welcoming new students, the traditional reception will take place this Friday. As in the autumn, many new students have a hard time finding a place to live, so we appeal to everyone who has a room they can rent out to help the new students get off to as good a start as possible.

Today we (Anders and Eva) visited Uppsala Business & Economics Students Association (Uppsalaekonomerna), one of the new student unions at our University. Now there are six student unions in total: Uppsala Student Union, Rindi (Gotland’s Student Union), the Pharmaceutical Student Association, the Uppsala Business & Economics Students Association, the Law Students’ Association in Uppsala and the Uppsala Union of Engineering and Science Students. Afterwards Eva met the University officials who will be conferring doctoral degrees at the Winter Conferment Ceremony. It’s always a pleasure to look forward to honouring our graduating doctoral students, honorary doctors and prize winners. Everyone is welcome to the ceremony in Uppsala Cathedral on 27 January.

Now we’re summing up 2016 and busy putting the annual report together. I recently received a report on Uppsala University’s cooperation with Drivhuset Uppsala, which I would like to share with you.

Uppsala students have lots of exciting business ideas and the non-profit foundation Drivhuset Uppsala seeks to support and inspire them to dare to try to put their ideas into practice. In the course of 2016, Uppsala University contributed commitment and valuable funding to boost contributions from the business sector and the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth. The funding enabled Drivhuset to organise inspirational and educational activities for 1,340 participants and offer individual business development support at 401 meetings with 276 unique individuals. 105 business ideas came from 72 students, 26 alumni and 7 researchers from Uppsala University.

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