Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: February 2017

The week in review: Q&R17, Rudbeck Lab and University Board

(Original Swedish post published 18 February.)

The Q&R17 project is now entering its most intensive phase. The departments are hard at work on their self-evaluations and on Tuesday we had a visit from the people who will be chairing the panels and panel members chosen for their research on or other expertise in research environments. We spent a very interesting afternoon explaining and discussing the design and purpose of this evaluation and how it differs from the more traditional research evaluations we have conducted previously. It is important that the panels fully understand that their task this time is not to grade the research as such but to give us critical feedback on how well the processes driving quality and renewal work in our research environments. This is why it is important that the panel chairs in particular are set on this track from the start.

The week also featured a ‘reinauguration’ of the Rudbeck Laboratory after extensive alterations and extension. On Thursday it was time for the symbolic ribbon-cutting ceremony, with music and a well-attended mingle. There were speeches by the Director of the Rudbeck Laboratory, Helena Jernberg Wiklund, as well as by Eva, Stellan Sandler and a representative of the landlord, Landstingsservice.

The week ended with the year’s first meeting of the University Board, held at SciLifeLab. As usual, the first item was the Vice-Chancellor’s report. This time some extra emphasis was given to the boosting of fundraising and alumni relations. The agenda included some of the year’s formal items, the adoption of the annual report for 2016 and the University’s budget input to the government for 2018–2020.

The annual report is the University’s formal report to the government. It is satisfying to note that things are going well for Uppsala University. We have a balanced economy. Our programmes continue to attract high numbers of of applicants. Research funding is translated into research. After several years of growth, the rise in the number of employees is now levelling out and the number of students is declining slightly – a planned adjustment to the funding ceiling allocated by the government. The number of fee-paying students continues to increase. The annual report contains many interesting details that reward closer study.

In our budget input to the government, Uppsala University emphasises the need for higher compensation per student, especially in laboratory-intensive programmes. The University also wants more student places. In particular, as a broad, full-scale university we want to be able to offer more freestanding courses. We also underline the importance of eliminating obstacles to internationalisation. You will be able to find both the budget input and the annual report on the website at the beginning of next week.

The University Board also adopted a plan for next year’s internal audit. Among other things, the auditors will examine how the University handles the storage of research data, the role of heads of department, activity planning and registration. The meeting concluded with a preparatory discussion on a Mission and Core Values document for Campus Gotland and a report on the University’s procedures for preventing and dealing with misconduct in research.

Share this post

Swedish Academic Collaboration Forum

We’ve written about the Swedish Academic Collaboration Forum (SACF) several times before in this blog. This is a collaboration project that has received valuable support from the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT). Six Swedish higher education institutions have jointly organised seminars, workshops and meetings in six countries on three continents, in which 208 organisations and 864 individuals have participated. At yesterday’s seminar – “Harnessing the power of international collaboration” – in Stockholm, participants from all the countries and higher education institutions involved met to discuss what we have learned along the way and above all how to move forward. When summing up our round table discussions, we agreed that much has happened, many partnerships have been deepened, new cooperation has begun, student exchanges have been initiated and agreements between research funding actors are in preparation, all thanks to SACF. Several groups had proposals on various types of Swedish offices in the countries concerned, like the one we have started in Hanoi, which can serve as a model for future offices abroad.

This was the last SACF seminar in this project, but as many people pointed out during the day, it is just the beginning. To borrow Churchill’s words: Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. I am quite convinced that SACF will return in various forms and that we have learned to cooperate internationally and can now take our experience and contacts forward in future projects and activities. Thank you to everyone who has been involved in SACF and contributed in one way or another to all its successes!

SACF in a nutshell

Helene Hellmark Knutsson

Round table discussion – Korea

Participating Swedish higher education institutions: Uppsala University, Lund University, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm University, Linköping University, Chalmers

Countries: Korea, China, Singapore, Indonesia, Brazil

Share this post

Ongoing debate on collaboration

Yesterday the web-based research magazine Curie carried an article entitled “How can you put a number on collaboration?” (in Swedish) in which Pam Fredman, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Gothenburg, and I express our doubts about the proposal to base resource distribution on collaboration. This excerpt from the article encapsulates my concern:

“The pilot project was a useful exercise that taught us a good deal and showed us many things we were not aware of. But as a basis for distributing money – no, it doesn’t stand up,” she says.

Eva Åkesson’s objection, in part, is that it is difficult to find criteria for measuring the impact of collaboration.

Share this post

Management Council meeting at Campus Gotland

(Swedish version posted 7 February.)

This week began early on a grey and chilly Monday morning on Gotland. Each year the Vice-Chancellor’s Management Council has an all-day meeting at Uppsala University – Campus Gotland. As usual, Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor Olle Jansson and Deputy University Director Therese Iveby Gardell gave us a warm welcome. It is valuable to have a chance to focus on Campus Gotland on the spot.

The merger between Uppsala University and Gotland University College has been followed by researchers from the Royal Institute of Technology. During the morning session, Lars Geschwind – one of the researchers conducting the study – gave us an advance presentation of the final report. They have carried out numerous interviews at various times with staff both in Uppsala and at Campus Gotland. These are some of the general questions the study has addressed: In what ways has the merger been guided by the ambitions expressed in the declaration of intent and the priority areas for the merger? How is the process of change being conducted? How efficient is the new organisation? How is the decision-making process managed? What cultural, administrative and skills-related obstacles need to be overcome? How much has changed for staff at Campus Gotland and in Uppsala? What are the potential short-term and long-term gains? What are the risks?

Lars Geschwind presents ongoing evaluation

The researchers conclude that the merger has been a success. The process has been carried out with great commitment, professionally and quickly. This was positive, but it caused a certain amount of stress and a high workload for some members of staff. Many new degree programmes and courses have started and there are more students at Campus Gotland than previously. Campus Gotland has also served as a test bed for educational and administrative activities. The report also notes that change takes time. Expectations can turn into disappointment and, conversely, scepticisim into optimism. The questions being asked now are, how should Campus Gotland develop moving forward? And what does the strategy for the future look like?

This led on naturally to the next item on the agenda: objectives and strategies for Campus Gotland. How should Uppsala University – Campus Gotland develop? Sometimes it’s useful to stop and reflect, and see how much has actually happened since the merger. Several new degree programmes will start this autumn. And more are planned in 2018. Research programmes on sustainable tourism and water (‘Blue Centre’) are beginning to take shape. Objectives and strategies for Campus Gotland will be discussed by both the Planning Council and the Management Council prior to adoption by the University Board after circulation for comment.

The day concluded with a meeting with politicians from Region Gotland and the Riksdag. It’s valuable to meet, discuss various issues and see how we can work together in future in the best interests of both the University and Gotland. It was an interesting and constructive meeting. Then it was time to return to Uppsala after a day well spent.

Meeting politicians at Campus Gotland

Today it was time for another good meeting. Twice a semester we have a student collaboration meeting. Representatives of all the students’ unions, nations (student associations), senior university officers and some other staff meet to discuss current issues. The meeting today was mainly about buildings, study areas, exam rooms, opening hours, evening and weekend access. This issue is particularly hot now ahead of the renovation of the University Library. Director of Building and Estate Services Peter Elenfalk came to the meeting to tell us about work on the development plan for the University’s premises and environments, focusing particularly on study spaces. Both staff and students will be involved in this project, and it will be very interesting to see how it develops. Ambitions are high – a world-leading university with a unique and world-leading study environment.

Share this post

Debate: Proposals smack of further state control

(Swedish version posted 6 February.)

Today I write about the report of the Inquiry on Rural Sweden on the site Altinget.se, under the heading “Proposals smack of further state control”. I have written before in this blog about the inquiry’s report, “For rural Sweden – a cohesive policy for work, sustainable growth and welfare” (Swedish Government Official Reports 2017:1). My title then was “New regional expansion of higher education institutions?” Now I was invited to write an opinion piece, and I accepted this invitation.

Proposals smack of further state control

Just when we higher education institutions are doing our best to understand the detailed implications of the recently presented research bill “Collaborating for knowledge – for society’s challenges and strengthened competitiveness”, a report has been circulated for comment which smacks of further state control. Reading the proposals in the inquiry report “For rural Sweden – a cohesive policy for work, sustainable growth and welfare” (Swedish Government Official Reports 2017:1) inspires a certain dismay.

Among the proposals, we read that “higher education institutions will be instructed to increase accessibility throughout the country” and that the government will “review the resource allocation system with a view to making educational programmes more relevant to local labour markets.”

It is difficult to reconcile the different messages. The government talks about the importance of quality, about the long term and trust, yet in the next breath there come sudden turnabouts suggesting the very opposite. As recently as last autumn, after the governing board of Dalarna University had initiated a discussion on campus locations, the university received written notice in its appropriation directions – more or less from one day to the next – that it must provide education in Borlänge.

Well-considered reasons for phase-out

Can it be that a new wave of regional expansion of higher education is on the way? Over the past 10 years, seval higher education institutions have reduced or ended their activities in smaller towns, for reasons of quality. They have had well-considered reasons for doing so. Having said that, we still have to take our responsibility and work intensively to broaden student recruitment and develop new kinds of distance education. In that area there has been tremendous progress in broadening access to higher education, not least because the technology offers so much better opportunities than in the past. Meanwhile, on its own initiative, Uppsala University has merged with the former Gotland University, a successful project that has increased the number of students and improved the quality of education available to young people on the island. There are several initiatives for increased collaboration between regional higher education institutions and the broad universities. If given a chance to develop, these initiatives would achieve far more than the proposed (symbolic) policies.

Alarming tendencies

What lies ahead? It is alarming that the government once again chooses to intervene and control activities without respect for the decision-making authority and independence of higher education institutions and without regard to the quality issues that they simultaneously raise in various connections. It is important, not least in these times of political anxiety, that higher education institutions are not made tools of political control. That would be a very disturbing development. Our role is to lead the long-term development of knowledge for the future, with a firm focus on quality and the best interests of society. We call for trust in our ability to make the necessary choices.

We fully understand the need for political reforms aimed at promoting development throughout the country. But an abundance of very small learning centres dispersed across the country is hardly the right way to go. It is odd that students cannot travel the 23 kilometres between Borlänge and Falun, when pregnant women have to travel far further to give birth. Investing in education is wise, but not at the expense of quality. That is counter-productive. High educational quality requires a critical mass of teachers engaged in research. In the inquiry’s proposal, higher education institutions are expected to finance regional education programmes out of their existing budget, which in practice means enforced changes in priorities without regard to the impact on the investment in quality that has been promised and with the level of quality that seriously watered-down local education would mean. The best way to meet the trends we are seeing today – political uncertainty, fact resistance and contempt for knowledge – is to strengthen the independence of the universities, defend critical thinking and provide conditions for society to move forward on the basis of knowledge.

Share this post

Last week’s events – a few samples

(Original Swedish post published 4 February.)

On the way to Örebro University’s academic celebration, I’m sitting on the train trying to sum up the past week, looking back on all the meetings and inspiring conversations that have taken place over the last few days.

Department visits are a treat for us and I would like to make them more often. On Monday the Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and University Director visited the Department of Ecology and Genetics. Our thanks to Lars Tranvik and his colleagues for interesting presentations on their ongoing activities, research, education and collaboration projects.

We have many international contacts and relationships. The President of the University of Tsukuba, Japan, visited us with his delegation at the beginning of the week – they are making a tour of several European universities, aiming to establish strategic partnerships. On Tuesday, Taipei Mission visited us to discuss a trip to Taiwan later this year. On Wednesday EIT Health Matchmaking Event began. It continued for the rest of the week and involved 300 participants from our KIC partners in Europe. On Thursday the Ambassador of Poland vistied Uppsala, and that evening we had a dinner at the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences with the Ambassador of China to discuss the Nanjing project that the Faculty of Medicine is involved in.

This week I had lunch with our Matariki Fellows, who either have been or will be going to one of our partner universities. Matariki, as I hope you know, is a network of seven universities in different parts of the world, brought together under the motto “Partnering for a better world”, which fits well with Uppsala University’s aspiration to contribute to a better world. It was interesting to hear about the cooperation and research projects that are being realised in the network. But what will stick in my mind most clearly is “Shut up and Write!” I have asked our in-house magazine Universen to find out more about this and write about different initiatives and tricks for regaining control over time and blocking time to think.

Matariki Fellows

My predecessor Bo Sundquist organised a fundraising conference. We listened to Bob Burgett from the University of Minnesota and then University Director Katarina Bjelke talked about how we at Uppsala University plan to raise our level of ambition in this area, including alumni activities. It was an informative and inspiring afternoon for us all. Thank you, Bo and Bob!

County Governor Göran Enander thanks Peter Egardt for his work for Rikssalsstiftelsen

Two other events this week: Rikssalstiftelsen (the Foundation for the Preservation of the Hall of State at Uppsala Castle) presented former County Governor Peter Egardt with a medal in recognition of his great commitment as Chair of the foundation’s governing board. Mats Ola Ottosson presented his new book on Thore Engströmer, entitled Han ledde ett universitet och styrde en stad (He led a university and governed a city).

At the Management Council meeting, we discussed the annual report, a summary of the overnight conference and our views on collaboration. The next Management Council meeting will be held at Campus Gotland, where we will take the opportunity to meet local politicians to talk about developments since the merger in 2013 and the challenges ahead. On Tuesday we also found time to look round the University Main Building, which is being renovated. If all goes according to plan, the Spring Conferment Ceremony will be held there and the whole building will reopen in time for the autumn semester.

As you see, a lot happens in a week, yet this is only a sample. Meanwhile, we are closely following events in the world around us.

Share this post

Knowledge knows no borders

(Original Swedish post published 1 February, English version posted 2 February.)

I often say in my speeches that knowledge knows no borders. Clichéd though this phrase may be, it is a truth that bears repeating. Now it seems as if insularity may also be boundless. When the new administration in the United States prevents citizens from certain countries from travelling to the country, the consequences are other than those intended. International exchanges and opportunities for cooperation are, like academic freedom, immovable cornerstones of higher education and research. Freedom of movement and opportunities for cooperation are being limited and reserved for certain people, while others are excluded and diminished. For us in this University it is unthinkable to accept this kind of generalised discrimination. We are convinced that the United States will withdraw these new rules. Pending their withdrawal, we register our protest.

Please read the EUA statement


Share this post