Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: June 2017

EU days in Brussels

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Eva and Anders were in Brussels, along with vice-chancellors, deputy vice-chancellors and/or research secretaries (or equivalents) from Sweden’s twelve research universities. The visit gave us a chance to listen to Swedish officials in Brussels (from the Permanent Representation of Sweden, the joint office of the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems and the Swedish Research Council, MEPs) as well as representatives of the European Commission and the League of European Research Universities (LERU).

One of the key topics was the Commission’s recent mid-term review of the eighth framework programme, Horizon 2020. The picture that emerges is mainly positive. The programme is simpler and more efficient than previous framework programmes. Its starting points are still relevant, though more can be done to improve both relevance and impact. The European Research Council is a success. However, funding is still concentrated to a limited number of countries/universities/companies and the process of widening participation (i.e. the share of funding that is channelled to new member countries) is making slow progress, while internationalisation (in the sense of third country participation) has decreased.

Another major topic concerned prospects for the ninth framework programme (FP9), which is now being prepared and will be implemented in 2021–2027. From a university perspective, the road to a successful programme is encumbered by a number of challenges, problems and obstacles. First, of course, there is the question of the future situation in Europe (the outcome of Brexit, various national elections, the migration crisis, the situation for democracy in Turkey and Central Europe, etc.). Secondly, there is the uncertain budget situation. Thirdly, there is the relationship between innovation and research, where the desire for innovation interferes with the prioritisation of excellent research in various ways. Fourthly, there is uncertainty about whether defence research should be included in FP9. LERU, for one, has said “no” in its advice paper.

On Tuesday evening we were generously invited to dinner at the Swedish Residence in Brussels, spiced up with a good dose of analysis of the general political situation in the EU, delivered by Sweden’s Permanent Representative to the European Union, Lars Danielsson. Much appreciated.

An EU crash course now and then is very useful – repetition is the mother of learning – and it is important that Swedish university managements are well oriented with regard to developments in European research and education policy.

Many thanks to Astrid Söderbergh Widding, Maryam Edalat Hansson and Elisabet Idermark at Stockholm University for a very well-organised and enjoyable journey!

Before returning home, we also had time for a visit to the Guild’s office and a separate meeting with Cecilia Wikström, MEP and former member of the Board of Uppsala University.

Share this post

University Board meeting at SCAS

(Original Swedish post published 20 June.)

Uppsala University has a new University Board, which took office on 1 May. Today we had our first meeting in the Thunberg Lecture Hall at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study (SCAS) in the Botanical Garden, lovely in its early summer beauty.

The new members were given a crash course on Uppsala University and the role and responsibilities of the University Board, ranging from the Higher Education Act and Ordinance to internal audit and a presentation of the students’ unions. So then they were well set to tackle the day’s business. Before the meeting, Björn Wittrock gave a brief presentation on SCAS and the beautiful room in which we were sitting. After that, the new chair of the University Board, Gudmund Hernes, opened the meeting. He was formerly minister for education and minister for health in Norway and told us about his earliest encounters with Uppsala University, dating all the way back to 1948. He also gave brief reflections on the role of universities in society, the challenges we face as a university and the responsibilities of the University Board. The new external members are Dr Henrik Berggren, historian and writer, Sylvia Schwaag Serger from the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems (Vinnova), Ulla Achrén from Åbo Akademi University and Elisabeth Dahlin from the Red Cross.  The new faculty representatives are Shirin Ahlbäck Öberg, Roland Roberts and Lisa Ekselius. The students are represented by Caisa Lycken, Jakob Ekengard, Adam Sabir and the alternates Fredrik Hultman and Emelie De Geer. Members of the ‘old’ Board who are continuing are external members Johan Wall, Gunnar Svedberg and Uli Hacksell, and faculty representative Sven Widmalm. It’s good to have a mix of continuity and renewal.

As usual, I began by giving the Vice-Chancellor’s report for June (Swedish) on recent developments at the University. You can read the report here (in Swedish). The meeting today also included some formal decisions, such as appointing members of the Council of Trustees and the audit committee, and appointing a vice-chair of the Board. Gunnar Svedberg will continue as vice-chair until 31 December 2017.

The Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Internationalisation, Leif Kirsebom, presented a follow-up report on the programme for internationalisation. The University Board noted that the University is on the right track. We had a good discussion which we will have reason to take up again on many future occasions. At the June meeting, the operational plan is adopted and the focus remains on quality and skills supply. For the first time, the operational plan has a three-year perspective, covering 2018–2020. This enables the disciplinary domains and departments to make long-term plans. Read more in the press release.

Last year, Uppsala University adopted new procedures for handling alleged misconduct in research. Ethical issues, the integrity of research, and misconduct are issues that affect confidence in the University and in science. Erik Lempert chairs the University’s Board for investigation of misconduct in research. He talked about how such allegations are handled at Uppsala University. The University Board also approved a reorganisation of the Uppsala Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies, establishing a Department of Russian and Eurasian Studies. We also had a short visit from County Governor Göran Enander, who presented himself and the programme Forskarna på slottet (Researchers at the Castle).

The meeting proper ended with the chair thanking our students for the time and effort they have devoted to the University Board. The day continued with a tour of the University on which the Board met our three vice-rectors and saw some of the University’s campus areas – the English Park Campus, SciLifeLab/Navet at Uppsala Biomedical Centre and finally the Ångström Laboratory. We have a committed and competent Board with an important role, which they take seriously, and I look forward with confidence to our continued good cooperation in the autumn.

Share this post

Lärosäten Öst – enhanced cooperation between six higher education institutions

(Original Swedish post.)

Yesterday I signed an agreement on cooperation – Lärosäten Öst (Higher Education Institutions East). The participants are Uppsala University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Örebro University, Dalarna University, the University of Gävle and Mälardalen University.

Signing of the agreement on Lärosäten Öst

When a regional reorganisation of Sweden was under discussion a year or two ago, we vice-chancellors in the proposed new region began to talk about enhanced cooperation. They were good discussions and a number of constructive ideas for enhanced cooperation came up. The regional reorganisation is now on ice, but the cooperation will continue.

In many respects, it’s a matter of continuing to build on what we already have. For instance, in research we have clinical research centres in several towns in the region. We cooperate on placements in many of our degree programmes, not least teacher education and specialist nursing programmes. Uppsala University Innovation has engaged in cooperation with both the University of Gävle and Dalarna University for several years. By cooperating, we higher education institutions take greater joint responsibility for ensuring that certain programmes that are in demand on the labour market are always offered in our region.

Uppsala University already cooperates with the Stockholm universities in several areas, but that is no obstacle to taking greater responsibility in our region. The one does not exclude the other – quite the contrary. Nor do I believe there is a contradiction between local and global. A more explicit regional rootedness can strengthen our international position.

We also intend to increase collaboration on the administrative side around certain expert and support functions. A network doesn’t carry on of its own accord, nor does it exist just for the sake of it. I believe in cooperation – together we can do more than we do separately. Now ideas and ambitions will take real shape and offer new opportunities for students, staff, businesses and organisations in our region.

Peter Högberg, Vice-Chancellor of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, signs the agreement

Share this post

Hamburg Transnational University Leaders Council

(Original Swedish post published 10 June.)

The weeks speed by and with the graduation ceremonies past, the semester is nearing its end. But there’s still plenty going on at the University and summer holidays will have to wait until after Almedalen Week in July. We have a busy programme at Campus Gotland that week. Do take a look at the programme (in Swedish) – even if you’re not there, you will be able to follow many of our seminars online.

Last week I participated in the Hamburg Transnational University Leaders Council. About fifty of us heads of universities from around the world were there to spend a few days discussing Differentiation in the post-secondary sector: A response to massification, competition, and the emergence of the global knowledge economy. The discussion started out from a number of country analyses, which were presented in a report, and presentations from six different countries. It’s valuable to take stock of the international environment and gain insight into the education systems in Russia, India, Chile, Australia, Ghana, France from colleagues in this way. While some challenges are shared, the systems are also completely different in many respects. On the second day we divided into workshops – I chaired “Differentiated access to meet mixed goals in post-secondary systems”, with participants from Italy, Colombia, Nigeria, Russia, Japan and Korea. The session “Safeguarding Academic Freedom in a Changing World” revealed many differences in our views of academic freedom – even if we all value it highly and are prepared to defend it. The topic “Universities and the Global Crisis of Democracy” generated at least as lively a debate.

Rector Ignatieff from the Central European University, Hungary, speaking on academic freedom


On Friday I travelled from Hamburg to Oslo to participate in the annual conference of the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education, which debated the question of whether measurement is the way to higher quality. I contributed by talking about our experience from our ongoing research evaluation Q&R17 and our view of proposals to allocate basic government appropriations for higher education on the basis of external collaboration. My impression is that there is a more healthily critical and reflective discussion on eva luation in Norway, among all parties concerned, than we have in Sweden. In Oslo I also took the opportunity to meet our new chair Gudmund Hernes for discussions ahead of the University Board meeting on 20 June, when we will welcome several new members.

Share this post

The Guild Forum and GA in Brussels

(Original Swedish post published 2 June.)

The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities, or the Guild, as we often call it, is a European university network that was established a year ago to give the university sector a stronger voice in Europe. At the end of the week, some of us from Uppsala University participated in the Guild Forum: Universities, Research and the Future of Europe in Brussels. There were panel debates with interesting discussions on challenges and opportunities for the next framework programme (FP9) – what approach should be taken to excellence and wider participation respectively, what are the major future challenges for Europe, can the programmes be simplified, and can we be more open to the world? I (Eva) took part in a panel debate on Research, Innovation and the Citizen: The Added Value of the EU.

In the Guild Workshops section, I chose the topic: Challenges for Europe’s sustainable development: translating the UN’s sustainable development goals into priorities for European research. Creative and inspiring discussions that encouraged all participants to think about these issues in new ways. The announcement by the US President later that evening that the United States was leaving the climate agreement gave an extra edge to our discussions.

Dinner speaker Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, President of the European Research Council

The next day it was time for the General Assembly, the meeting of university heads. First we had a visit from Kurt Vandenberghe, who works at the European Commission as Director for Policy Development and Coordination at DG Research and Innovation. We had an open and productive discussion that helped the network move forward in our work in Brussels. During the meeting, the University of Bern was elected as a member, so now there are nineteen universities in the Guild. We approved a position paper on FP9. Many bodies get actively involved and submit these types of documents – the Association of Swedish Higher Education has also formulated positions ahead of the next framework programme.

New Board of Directors: Eva Åkesson, Vincent Blondel, Volli Kalm (Anton Muscatelli absent)

A new Board of Directors was elected for the next three-year period and I was entrusted with the position of Vice-Chair. The new Chair is Vincent Blondel, Rector of the University of Louvain, who succeeds Ole Petter Ottersen (University of Oslo). Ole Petter resigned from the post as he is taking over as Vice-Chancellor of Karolinska Institutet on 1 August. Now it feels as if the Guild is really taking off, we have real commitment among the members and a well-organised office in place in Brussels. It is up to us in Uppsala University how we want to use all the opportunities that this network gives us in the European arena in future.

Thank you presentation to Ole Petter Ottersen

Share this post

Quality and Renewal 2017 – on to the next phase

For two intensive and (at first) terribly chilly weeks in May, the University played host to more than 130 colleagues from about 20 different countries when the Q&R panels came to make their site visits. Each of the 19 panels spent five days in Uppsala to experience our research environments and talk with their representatives.

Quality and Renewal 2017 (Q&R17) focuses on evaluating conditions and processes for excellent research rather than research results as such, and it was exciting to see how this concept would work out in real life. After feedback from the panel chairs at the end of each week of visits, we feel we can say that on the whole, it’s worked out very well. The panels seem to have understood their role and their task in this evaluation. They were impressed by the quality of the self-evaluations they had seen and the openness they experienced when they visited the departments.

And judging by the oral feedback we received from the chairs, there’s no doubt our ‘critical friends’ have made a number of observations that will lead to improvement measures. Career systems, the capacity for strategic renewal and the link between research and education (and, where relevant, clinical activities) are areas in which the potential for improvement is repeatedly underlined.

Now the panels’ reports will begin to arrive – they’re due by 15 June – and after that perhaps the most important phase for us at Uppsala University will begin. Where the Q&R project is concerned, it’s time to put together a final report in which the panel reports are supplemented by broad analyses of the questionnaire that was carried out last autumn, summary descriptions of the bibliometric analyses and, not least, the project management’s overall observations and conclusions on the whole process.

For everyone else – heads of department, deans, vice-rectors and the Vice-Chancellor, together with the relevant boards, committees and other collegial bodies – it will then be time to turn the panels’ conclusions and recommendations into practical measures. Only then will Q&R17 really have an impact on research quality and renewal at Uppsala University.

Share this post