Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: April 2017

Breakfast with politicians, dinner with the University Board

(Original Swedish post published 28 April.)

Once a semester we invite Uppsala politicians – from the municipality, the region and the Riksdag – to a breakfast meeting. We tell them what’s going on at the University and which issues are at the top of our agenda. But it’s at least as important for us at the University to be aware of issues on the political agenda, at local, regional, national and EU level. Apart from the mutual exchange of information, this time we had a chance to present our research on racism initiative. Anna-Sara Lind from our new centre presented the research activities and our plans. These meetings are appreciated by both sides. Everyone needs breakfast and it’s usually possible to fit it in even in the most crowded diaries.

On Wednesday afternoon it was time for the last meeting of the University Board as currently constituted. It was a cross between a normal meeting with all the points that are generally on the agenda for the April meeting and a recapitulation of all that has happened in the four years that this version of the University Board has been working to promote the best interests of the University. The more regular part of the agenda consisted of the Vice-Chancellor’s report, visit from the Swedish National Audit Office, internal audit plan, report on the work on the operational plan.

Two guests at the meeting were Professor Lena Marcusson and Administrative Director Måns Östring, who are leading the project to review the University’s rules of procedure. They gave an interim report, which was followed by a lively discussion. Lena and Måns have had more than thirty meetings with people in the University during their first few months of working on the project. It is a good thing to have broad discussion of these issues.

The last part of the meeting consisted of presentations by three talented researchers – Tobias Ekholm, Karin Hagren Idevall and Mathias Hallberg. Inspiring, interesting, thought-provoking and greatly appreciated by the University Board.

After the meeting we had an advance look at the Segerstedt Building. It’s nearly ready now and we’ll soon be moving in. The University Board has received regular reports on the building project at all phases of the work. So it was fun to be able to show how plans have become reality.

The evening ended with dinner at the Castle, where we had the opportunity to express the gratitude of the University and its management to the members now leaving the Board, and to thank them for their great commitment and for many good discussions. Together we have formulated and taken many decisions that have helped make Uppsala University the successful higher education institution we are today.

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Research Outlook ends

(Original Swedish post published 25 April.)

For the past three years or so, I (Eva) have been a member of the Steering Committee for the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences project Research Outlook. Yesterday the project reached its conclusion. Minister for Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson and State Secretary Karin Röding were both present, along with many other people from the sector.

The project goals are described on the Academy’s website:

The goal for the project is to provide a forum in which horizons will be expanded to get an overview of goals, mechanisms, obstacles and opportunities in a number of prioritised research policy areas. Research Outlook will involve activities to generate new insights and will propose ways in which we can change the way Swedish research is financed and organised. In the longer term, the project aims to provide more opportunities for Swedish researchers to:

  • Run internationally effective research
  • Offer higher education on a research-based foundation
  • Include research ‘consumers’ (the general public, media, industry, administration, etc.) in the conversation on the basis of research results and research expertise.

A number of reports have been written and seminars conducted. The reports include:

  • Challenges, roles and conditions for Swedish research
  • Swedish higher education institutions differ but share the same mission
  • Four higher education institutions, four roles?
  • Better opportunities for internationalisation of research and higher education
  • More members of higher education institution governing boards come from the business sector
  • Poor follow-up of results of research policy

All these reports are available on the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences website.

The concluding seminar yesterday was introduced by Minister for Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson. She began by saying that there is a general political consensus on research policy, albeit with certain nuances. She underlined the investments made by previous and present governments but stated that “the investments have not produced the desired results”. The outcome has been more research, but not higher quality, she said. She then went on to governance, which she called a pet issue, and referred to the upcoming inquiry, the terms of reference and chair of which will be presented on Thursday.  She also talked about internationalisation, and here too she adopted a sombre tone: we have lost ground in this area, our environments are not as international as they should be. But now this will be tackled by the inquiry chair who has been appointed, Agneta Bladh, part of whose remit is to develop goals and strategies by January 2018. At the end of her speech she mentioned pure research and the distribution of basic appropriations (granted directly by central government) relative to external funding, and said that this debate needs to continue. She said there did not need to be so sharp a dividing line between research funding bodies and higher education institutions. Finally she mentioned lifelong learning.

During the evening, three panels briskly dealt with three themes.

  1. Scientifically driven research and needs-driven research – how to decide on resource distribution.
  2. Evaluation and analysis of Swedish research policy – how is it done?
  3. Internationalisation of research and higher education.

I participated in the third panel on internationalisation, along with Agneta Bladh and Sven Stafström (Swedish Research Council). The questions brought up were: Is a national strategy needed for the internationalisation of our higher education institutions? Yes or no? Why? What is the greatest challenge? Are conditions for internationalisation good in Sweden? What do you expect of the inquiry?

In my opinion, a national strategy is needed as long as it can be kept at the right level and does not reduce internationalisation to just counting numbers of incoming and outgoing students. In today’s increasingly globalised world, internationalisation is considerably more complex than that. When we attempt to collaborate across national borders, we struggle with regulations and the straitjacket of being a government agency. The Riksdag decision required for membership of the Guild is just one example of this. Research infrastructure is an area that has to be included in a national strategy. I hope the inquiry will clearly espouse the perspective of promotion and seek to eliminate obstacles, and that the strategy will be refreshingly free of political lectures.

The final report of the project highlighted the following five points:

  1. Increase long-term public investments in research and innovation
  2. Strengthen the system for research policy analysis and evaluation
  3. Study the desirability of introducing development contracts between central government and higher education institutions
  4. Give higher education institution governing boards clearer mandates and remits, and develop their working arrangements
  5. Improve the conditions for internationalisation of research and higher education.

The seminar was rounded off by State Secretary Karin Röding, who commented on the five points in the final report:

  1. More resources – the sector has already received them and the government expects more impact on society.
  2. Need for more analysis – the Swedish Higher Education Authority will now be given an overall remit to evaluate education and research.
  3. Contracts – this will be taken up in the upcoming inquiry.
  4. Governing boards – no comment on this.
  5. Internationalisation – Agneta Bladh will deal with this in her inquiry.
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March for Science in Uppsala 22 April

(Original Swedish post published 21 April.)

Tomorrow, Saturday 22 April 2017, many will participate in worldwide demonstrations for science. In Uppsala we can join in the march starting at Stora Torget at 11:00 and proceeding via Gustavianum to the Ångström Laboratory. Many organisations support March for Science, including the Association of Swedish Higher Education and the Swedish Research Council.

I (Eva) will take part to show my support for science and to highlight my opposition to attempts to limit academic freedom. As we’ve written several times before in this blog: the best way to respond to the trends we are seeing today – political uncertainty, fact resistance and contempt for knowledge – is to strengthen the independence of the universities and defend critical thinking and the advancement of society on the basis of knowledge.

March for Science on Dag Hammarskjölds väg

At Ångström – now celebrating its 20th anniversary!

As a member of The Guild network, Uppsala University endorses the joint statement:

The Guild Stands with Global Science Marchers

On 22 April 2017, The Guild will join people across the world to celebrate the collaborative and transnational spirit of science, and to condemn efforts to curtail academic freedom.

Science can and should be a source of our future, but it does not exist in a vacuum. Saturday’s march forms part of broader effort to secure science’s place in the public sphere where funding is determined, and legislation is discussed and adopted.

In Europe, the Commission and other institutions are creating funding mechanisms and flexible regulatory systems to promote Open Science and incentivise scientific cooperation throughout the Union. Yet, in recent months, we have witnessed worrying actions that threaten academic freedom; these include: Hungary’s latest higher education law, which in effect targets Central European University; and the imprisonment – without charges – of students, teachers and researchers in Turkey. We are alarmed by these developments.

We also raise our concerns in relation to other restrictions to academic freedom we have witnessed recently. These include threatened cuts to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts in the US, and restrictions on public discussion for employees of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture in the US.

Globalisation, economic change and population movements have caused deep anxieties: these cannot continue to be addressed with platitudes or fake news. They require in-depth discussions about values, cultures and what it means to be secure: and they require greater efforts to ensure wider social participation. We call upon the governments of European states to enhance their commitment to research, innovation and research-led education.

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International networks in academia

(Original Swedish post published 19 April.)

In today’s edition of the web magazine Curie, I write about why international networks are needed in academia. Do read the article (in Swedish)! Or read it below (translated).

Coincidentally, a large delegation from the University of Tartu was here to visit us over the past couple of days. The University of Tartu is a member of the Guild, and also a member of Coimbra, the Baltic University Programme and the European Universities Association, just like us. During our talks over the past couple of days, we discussed more in-depth cooperation, compared governance models and strategies, analysed career systems and presented Q&R17. Next week municipal leaders from Tartu will visit our city – Uppsala and Tartu are twin towns, which adds an extra dimension to our collaboration.

With Rector Volli Kalm of the University of Tartu.

Why international networks are needed in academia

Successful internationalisation requires cooperation. This is why Uppsala University was one of the co-founders of a new European university network in Brussels. Because of needless obstacles, Swedish higher education institutions have to work hard to be relevant partners in international cooperation, according to Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson.

Our world is facing a range of challenges. The refugee situation, threats to democracy and the freedom of expression, social exclusion, antibiotic resistance, climate change and sustainable development are examples, where Uppsala University is contributing by its knowledge at local, regional, national and international level. But these are issues that individual higher education institutions (HEIs) cannot solve on their own; networks and partnerships in the international arena are becoming increasingly important.

A global education market has long existed, with students moving between countries, while research is international by its very nature. This forces all HEIs to constantly enhance their attractiveness. But today, internationalisation is about much more than mobility; the process has gone further and is more complex and more important than it was just a few years ago. There are many joint educational programmes, research centres and collaboration projects in internationally integrated networks.

These days, a substantial proportion of funding for Swedish research comes from the EU. The total value of EU projects in which Uppsala University is participating stands at around EUR 50 million. We have significant cooperation with partners outside Europe as well. To give a couple of examples, in Nanjing, China, Uppsala University and several other Swedish HEIs are participating in building up a hospital with research and education  dimensions, and in Hanoi, Vietnam, we have a campus presence and contacts with both universities and other actors in the area.

Given these developments, Swedish HEIs and our partners cannot operate solely in Swedish networks: we need to be at least as active in various international arenas. Every HEI needs to decide for itself how best to go about this, based on its own position and strategies.

We recognise the importance of European cooperation on education policy, and this is why Uppsala University was among the co-founders last autumn of a new European university network, The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities. We currently have 18 members. The aim is to join forces to contribute knowledge on important future issues. But this network also provides increased opportunities to influence future European policy on research and education on the spot in Brussels, where we have a joint office. Cooperation strengthens ties and increases mutual trust, which opens doors to exchanges that reach far beyond student mobility.

Lund University has been a member of a similar network, LERU, for several years. All Swedish HEIs have their own goals for internationalisation and are working hard to be relevant partners in international cooperation.

The government’s objective must be to stimulate and facilitate our efforts, not to tell us what needs to be done. Being limited and obstructed by the Riksdag’s calendar and red tape, as we are at present, means we risk missing out on opportunities to act in international connections, and being perceived as difficult to work with.

Uppsala University was the only institution that had to delay full membership of the Guild for months because membership required prior approval from the Riksdag. This absurdity astonished our international colleagues and is just one example of needless obstacles to the increased internationalisation of Swedish HEIs. For example, we have encountered unreasonable obstacles in getting involved in KICs (Knowledge and Innovation Communities), which are advertised by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), an EU body. We have faced numerous difficult legal complications. This is no help to Swedish HEIs in their internationalisation and no help to Sweden as a knowledge nation. Here, the universities pointed out the need for greater decision-making authority as much as two years ago, in the report of the Stockholm–Uppsala University Network, Ökad handlingsfrihet för statliga lärosäten (in Swedish) (Increased freedom of action for public higher education institutions).

There are therefore many good reasons to undertake an inquiry on internationalisation, and in February the government entrusted Agneta Bladh with this task. We hope the inquiry does not get stuck in the issue of mobility. It is important to broaden the perspective, and to see education and research as part of a whole picture. Collaboration with business and society also involves an international perspective. And most importantly: the focus must be on promoting, rather than controlling, internationalisation in the complex international landscape in which we find ourselves.

The best way to respond to the trends we are seeing today – political uncertainty, fact resistance and contempt for knowledge – is to strengthen the independence of the universities and defend critical thinking and the advancement of society on the basis of knowledge.

Eva Åkesson
Vice-Chancellor, Uppsala University

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Minute of silence today, Monday, at 12 noon

(Original Swedish post.)

On Friday Sweden was struck by an act of terror on Drottninggatan in Stockholm. An act of terror intended to spread fear and hatred. I was at Brussels Airport when it happened and followed the events via news reports and Messenger posts from my daughter who, like many others, was running terrified on the streets of Stockholm. I was shocked – this was happening in Sweden. Yet in the midst of all this, something wonderful happened. People opened their homes to those who couldn’t get home, offered pizza or a lift. This weekend, tens of thousands gathered on Drottninggatan and at Sergels torg to show their sympathy for the victims and to grieve together. Sweden is coming together and standing up for the values that we all too often take for granted – our freedom, our democracy and our open society.

Unfortunately, the attack in Stockholm is not an isolated event. Last year violence hit Istanbul, Nice and Brussels, recently London and St Petersburg were struck and yesterday, Sunday, two attacks took place in Egypt, resulting in many deaths and injuries. Uppsala University is international – we have students, researchers, employees from all over the world. And we have students and staff members around the world.

The government has announced a minute’s silence today, Monday 10 April, at 12.00.  The University will fly the flag at half-mast and we will gather where we can in our departments and campus areas. At today’s meeting of the Management Council, we will suspend proceedings at 12.00 to honour the victims of terror both in Stockholm and in other places around the world.

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Events in Hungary

Yesterday the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities sent an open letter to the government of Hungary. The letter was written in response to the risk of closure faced by Central European University (CEU), founded by George Soros in 1991, as a result of the actions of the Hungarian government. The Hungarian government asserts that CEU is illegal as it is not formally a Hungarian university and has no independent campus in the United States, which is the source of its funding.

Central European University conducts high-quality research in the arts and social sciences and has stood out among the universities of eastern Europe for many years. But now the government of Hungary is threatening to close CEU, as well as another 27 foreign-linked universities. We oppose these actions. They represent a major threat to academic freedom in a country which has already experienced various interventions against the freedom of the press. The legislative proposal has already led to large demonstrations and protests. As a university and a member of The Guild, we wish to clearly register our own disapproval and draw attention to the letter sent by the network.

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Similar but different

(Original Swedish post published 1 April.)

Our trip is nearing its end and today it is I, Rozbe Bozorgi, chair of one of the Uppsala student unions, who am taking charge of the blog.

Education and research are often seen as a university’s two fundamental pillars, combining to produce a better university environment. Although the link between the two might seem obvious, their relationship is often far from clear to the average student. As a student I rarely thought about their synergy and it is only now, in my current position, that I have understood how important it is that the right balance is struck between them. For the chair of a student union, education is a priority issue and it has been at the heart of many discussions this past week, particularly today.

The day began with a visit to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. There we heard about how they work with donations and activities to promote a better world.

Visiting the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

From there we went on to the University of Washington. For me, this was a highlight. I took the opportunity to visit their equivalent of a student union, a visit that shed light on both our similarities and differences.

University of Washington

University of Washington

At the University of Washington they have a single ‘student union’ for the whole university. As I understand it, they are in a much more dependent position relative to their university than is generally the case for student unions in Sweden. They are generally funded by a certain percentage of all tuition fees going directly to the union. The 65 employees in their union building are all university employees. The students themselves have no union officials with full-time remuneration; instead their elected representatives perform their union commitments alongside their studies.

We also discussed at which levels in the university our unions are represented. Here we have come a good deal further. Having representatives on the equivalent of the Management Council or University Board was inconceivable for my new-found friends. This of course results in a situation where their university management can decide which issues the union can have a say in, which indirectly puts them in a dependent position with respect to the university.

One thing that impressed me was their equivalent of the student union council. This group meets once a week and consists of nearly 90 students. Unfortunately our talks ran out of time, but I look forward to continuing the dialogue.

Finally we also discussed current priorities and it was interesting to see how similar we are despite our differences. Some of the issues they work on most have to do with student loans and student housing, not so different from us.

Directly after the meeting with the student union we met Marisa Nickel who works on strategic and academic issues at the University of Washington. She told us they had recently begun to rethink their approach to education issues and it was interesting to hear some of the details of this.

Cherry trees in full bloom at the University of Washington

The evening ended with a dinner at sea on Honorary Consul Lars Jonsson’s boat. This made a fine conclusion to an eventful week with many exchanges of experience, many new contacts and old friendships reaffirmed.

The meetings we had will live on in my mind as I return to Sweden. I will keep in touch with the student union at the University of Washington to exchange views and governance documents. I expect our views and governance documents will differ in some ways, but I am convinced that this will only be productive of further reflection and development. And that is something that is good for us all.

Rozbe Bozorgi

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