Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: September 2017

Boost for Gotland in budget bill

(Original Swedish post published 23 September.) 

Last week the government presented its budget bill for 2018. As usual, government ministers were deployed across the country to present the bill locally. Minister for Defence Peter Hultqvist was on Gotland to talk about defence investments but also about a commitment to research at Campus Gotland worth SEK 40 million (SEK 8 million per year for five years). This is a welcome commitment that will strengthen the framework for realising Uppsala University’s programme for Campus Gotland, which the University Board adopted the week before. It is also an acknowledgement on the part of the government that the merger has been a success and that we as a university are able to take responsibility for the advancement of knowledge in the region.

Uppsala University will receive an increase of SEK 29 million in its basic funding for research. This is thanks to quality-based allocations, as Uppsala comes out on top in terms of citations and is also a leader in obtaining external funding. As part of the implementation of last autumn’s research bill, the research councils will receive funds to distribute to research on antibiotic resistance, the challenge of digitalisation in society, and migration and integration. These are areas in which Uppsala University has strong research and should be able to contribute. 

In the area of education, Uppsala University will receive an additional sum of just over SEK 24 million, on top of previously known targeted investments in certain educational programmes, such as teacher, nurse and doctor education. This means we can educate more students, which is positive. Our students have been waiting a long time for the increase in the grant component of financial support for studies that has now been announced.

Otherwise, there was little news, most of the measures in the budget bill had been presented earlier during the late summer and early autumn.

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KAW centenary, Principals’ Council and Management Council

(Original Swedish post published 19 September.)

Right now I am on my way to Uppsala from a meeting of the Principals’ Council in Stockholm. Trips to Stockholm are frequent and I am among those who can’t wait for the future four-track rail link. The meeting today was about national research infrastructure and its future funding and priorities. Other topics discussed included the current government inquiries on wider participation in higher education and the size of university boards. The EU’s ninth research framework programme (FP9) came up and I described the work of the Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities on the Lamy report (the report of the High Level Group on maximising the impact of EU Research and Innovation Programmes) and Brexit. We heard a presentation on Sweden’s application for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) – 19 countries are vying to host the EMA and the EU Member States will decide the issue in a vote later this autumn. The Principals’ Council, which consists of the heads of the 12 largest universities, is linked to one of our largest financiers, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (KAW). KAW is celebrating its centenary this year with six symposia on different themes and in different locations in Sweden. The symposium here in Uppsala is entitled: “Human Progress in the 21st Century – Bright and Dark Sides of Democratization”.

At the Management Council meeting yesterday, we discussed support for collaboration, sustainable development initiatives, the inquiry on governance and resources, and rankings. We have received a report on rankings and Uppsala University, describing our position in the latest rankings and giving advice and recommendations for the future. In a few weeks we will have an action plan ready for further discussion and for the Management Council to take a position on. Regardless of what we think about the ranking lists, it is of the greatest importance that we report our data correctly so that Uppsala University shows to full advantage in these connections.

As you are no doubt aware, we are in the midst of choosing a vice-chancellor at the moment. I am one of the three candidates and look forward to meeting the consultative assembly on Thursday to show what I have achieved during the last six years, together with the other senior university officers, and to look ahead to how we want to tackle future challenges.

Don’t miss Friday’s lecture on “Human Rights in a Time of Global Insecurity” by Jan Eliasson, chair of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and former Swedish foreign minister, chair of the UN General Assembly and Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. Jan Eliasson is appearing in the University’s series of lectures on human rights in memory of former Vice-Chancellor Martin Henriksson Holmdahl (1923–2015).

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First University Board meeting of the autumn

Today the University Board convened in the Segerstedt Building for its first meeting of the autumn. When we next meet, we will be able to return to our meeting room in the renovated University Main Building. But it was pleasing to be able to show the Board our fine new Segerstedt Building. As usual, I started the meeting by delivering a report from the Vice-Chancellor. The agenda for the day included decisions, information points and items for discussion.

We discussed the premises supply plan, which will come up again and again in our work on the development plan, which has a 2050 horizon. The University Board was briefed on the University’s information security procedures – particularly important after what happened this summer at the Swedish Transport Agency.

We went over the ongoing review of the University’s governance and resource distribution model carried out by a cross-university group led by Professor Per-Anders Edin. The watchwords in drafting a revised model have been comprehensibility, simplicity and transparency.

Last year the issue of a Mission and Core Values statement for Campus Gotland was discussed and the proposal was referred to the departments and faculties for consideration in the spring. One of the views expressed in various quarters was that it shouldn’t be a matter of a mission and core values, as these are the same for the whole of Uppsala University. Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor Olle Jansson therefore presented a proposed programme for Campus Gotland, which was adopted by the University Board. The programme will be available soon on Medarbetarportalen. Well done, everyone involved at one stage or another!

The University Board also decided on the appointment of a new Head of Internal Audit: Sven Jungerhem. Welcome to your new responsibilities, Sven!

In the afternoon, the new members of the University Board carried on with their introductory programme, learning about the Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds, our music groups and museums, and the University Library.

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Opinion piece in UNT: Itchy-fingered interference

(Original Swedish post published 11 September.)

Yesterday we wrote in the local newspaper UNT about itchy-fingered interference. Read the article in UNT or read it below.

A new semester has started and we have welcomed our expectant new students to the University and to an education that will give them the skills and independence they need to meet their future labour market and the challenges of tomorrow’s society.

The government’s proposal this summer on widening participation has rightly provoked debate. The government’s message was that the Higher Education Ordinance would be amended to introduce tougher measures against social imbalances in student recruitment. Minister for Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson announced that higher education institutions must “work more broadly than previously to counter disparities in access to higher education between people from different social backgrounds, and to ensure that higher education is available throughout the country.”

It is very important that we have students from different social backgrounds and with differing experience – important for the educational environment and for quality. We are happy to open the door to more people and work continuously on new educational approaches, individual adaptation and other measures to give all our students the best chances of achieving their goals and dreams. It is natural for a university to try out and evaluate new paths to knowledge, both in research and in education. The quest for knowledge means constantly being on the move. We have no need of political lectures on this score.

But what is happening here is that a legislative amendment is being proposed, whose consequences have not been analysed, without prior discussion. The proposal circulated for consultation states that the wording should take account of the efforts to widen participation that are already in progress at higher education institutions. So why introduce legislation at all? Formalising multiple initiatives in law requires clarity, to begin with. What does ‘wider participation’ mean, legally speaking, and how is it to be monitored? Moreover: ‘wider’ efforts naturally require resources and a legal requirement will then govern higher education institutions’ choices when considering how to allocate funds for education. Priorities should build on knowledge and proven experience. Research shows that providing all students with good educational quality and teaching benefits those who are in greatest need of help.

The proposal, which has now been circulated for comment, is just one in a series of worrying political interventions since 2009, when the ‘autonomy reform’ was introduced. http://www.regeringen.se/rattsdokument/proposition/2010/03/prop.-200910149/. Under the previous government, a system for evaluating educational quality was forced through that was criticised by the higher education institutions and blasted by international reviewers of quality schemes. It is a serious matter that politicians have begun to repeatedly interfere in how higher education institutions conduct their own internal quality assurance of education and research. Earlier this year, Dalarna University and Blekinge Institute of Technology were forced to take decisions contrary to their own quality priorities. This is really going too far. It should go without saying that the choices made to best promote quality and knowledge development must be based on institutions’ own priorities and situations.

Spreading resources geographically will not solve the problem of social imbalance. Dividing resources between many small locations weakens the quality of instruction and makes it more difficult to achieve the goals that the government is aiming for. Moreover, the way in which the Minister points out that teaching needs to be adapted and higher education institutions need to devote more effort to reforming traditional teaching methods is not just pushing at an open door, it shows ignorance and a failure to understand the role of a government minister. The higher education sector must not become a cookie jar into which politicians dip their itchy fingers for short-term political gain. New proposals must be discussed broadly, with the higher education institutions and in parliament, before changing the law.

In the prevailing political climate, with growing populism in many countries, it is more important than ever to prevent a tendency towards increased political control of academia. It is time to ensure that higher education and research are given constitutional protection against short-term political influence. Naturally, as the entity responsible for and main financier of the education and research conducted at our higher education institutions, the state must set ambitious targets, but the institutions themselves must have a mandate to choose how to work towards these goals. The challenge facing the inquiry on governance and resources that the government appointed this spring appears ever greater and more important in retrospect. We need a discussion on the governance of higher education that is rooted in principles, that increases genuine autonomy and gives the higher education institutions greater authority over their own affairs. It’s quite all right to make high demands on our activities in terms of quality and relevance, but that aside, it’s time to put the lid on the higher education policy cookie jar.


Eva Åkesson, Vice-Chancellor

Anders Malmberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor

Torsten Svensson, Vice-Rector for Humanities and Social Sciences

Stellan Sandler, Vice-Rector for Medicine and Pharmacy

Johan Tysk, Vice-Rector for Science and Technology

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With STUNS in Berlin

(Original Swedish post published 10 September.)

On 4–6 September the Foundation for Collaboration between the Universities in Uppsala, Business, and the Public Sector (STUNS) made a study visit to Berlin. The delegation was made up of 18 people from the STUNS Governing Board and Planning Group, led by County Governor Göran Enander. Uppsala University was represented by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Anders Malmberg, blogging here, along with University Director Katarina Bjelke and Jenny Nordquist, acting head of Uppsala University Innovation.

The programme focused on three topics: how a city like Berlin goes about marketing itself, what is being done to encourage start-ups, and how the transition to renewable energy is progressing. As is well known, Germany has committed itself to achieving the climate objectives while fast-tracking its nuclear power phase-out.

On Monday afternoon we visited the Brain City Berlin campaign hosted by Berlin Partner, the city’s organisation for trade development and promotion, which engages in highly successful ‘location marketing’ to attract businesses and research institutes. We also managed to fit in a regular board meeting before dinner with Sweden’s ambassador Per Thöresson at the residence, where we were briefed on the situation in Germany ahead of the election at the end of the month and in relation to Brexit, etc.

On Tuesday we saw a number of examples of what Berlin is doing to encourage and attract start-ups. We visited Ahoy Berlin, which is one of more than 120 innovation labs, incubators and co-working spaces in Berlin today. While there, we saw a hilarious YouTube video of the best sales pitch anyone has made for Berlin as a global start-up centre. Watch the video here!

Tuesday was a very busy day. We also visited Technische Universität Berlin (TU Berlin), where the Centre for Entrepreneurship presents an interesting combination of entrepreneurship research and education and incubator activities. And then we carried on to Adlershof, an enormous business and science park venture in the old East Berlin. The Humboldt University has placed six departments there, numerous companies have established themselves and student housing is being built on a large scale.

Before travelling home on Wednesday afternoon we had time to visit the EUREF Campus, where a private entrepreneur and property owner is developing what they describe as a future home base for companies and research institutes in the fields of energy, sustainability and mobility. Here, start-ups exist side-by-side with medium-sized companies, R&D divisions from major companies and researchers from TU Berlin. We received a detailed introduction to Mobility2Grid (pdf) (a research project cum test and reference district for sustainable urban development, with a focus on decentralised electricity and heating supply and transport), and the company Green City Solutions (intelligent moss-covered air filters for cities).

During our two busy days in Berlin, we benefited from the expert guidance of Anne Geitmann from the German–Swedish chamber of commerce, who also helped put the programme together. Many thanks to all the organisers and companions on the trip for an instructive and enjoyable visit.

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It’s all happening in Uppsala!

(Original Swedish post published 2 September.)

The semester is under way in earnest and our freshers have been properly welcomed to Campus Gotland and Uppsala. It’s always fun every year to welcome our new students, who come to us full of expectation from all over the world.

We have received many visits this week. On Wednesday, Uppsala University was on the programme for the annual ambassadors’ week held by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs: ambassadors who will be posted all over the world had a chance to learn about what’s going on in Uppsala. Our University has benefited greatly from the help of Swedish ambassadors in many countries. We have received help with venues and contacts when organising alumni meetings. Seminars have been well attended thanks to targeted marketing by the embassies. Right now we’re preparing an event on 26 October in Washington DC. The purpose is to promote Swedish universities and show how world-class they are. The event also aims to maintain dialogue with US counterparts so as to foster long-term network-building. The target group includes American researchers and research funding actors as well as other stakeholders in research and higher education. This is a joint event with four other universities, the Swedish Research Council and the Embassy of Sweden in Washington.

On Thursday we had a visit from Zhejiang Province in China, which has a twinning agreement with Uppsala. I took part in the lunch at Uppsala Castle, where the news of the proposed upgrade to a quadruple-track railway between Stockholm and Uppsala further raised our spirits. And on Friday, Vietnamese Minister of Education and Training Professor Phung visited Uppsala University at the head of a 70-strong delegation. Five MoUs were signed during the visit, with various universities. For some time now, we have had an office in Vietnam and Anna-Klara Lindeborg is Uppsala University’s representative on the ground to further promote cooperation and forge contacts.

During the week, a group from the United States who are interested in runes made a tour of Uppland. I met the party at Carolina Rediviva, when Professor Henrik Williams guided us with enthusiasm among fantastic works about runes.

As if this wasn’t enough, the Segerstedt Building was officially opened on Friday with a ceremony, fanfare and open house with guided tours for staff. On Culture Night, the building will be open to the general public. I broke the ground for the new building three years ago this October, and now it’s ready and opened. But the plans date all the way back to 2008. My hope is that this building will facilitate better cooperation in the University. The administration must provide the best possible support for the core activities, and we intend this support to be efficient and effective, responsive and professional, in an open and welcoming building at the heart of the University.

The administration’s new workplace has been named the Segerstedt Building. Torgny Torgnysson Segerstedt was an undergraduate and PhD student at Lund University, but became professor and later vice-chancellor at Uppsala University. Torgny Segerstedt dedicated his entire career to higher education and research. He ended his career at the time of the University’s 500th anniversary in 1977. His period as vice-chancellor coincided with an eventful and expansive time in the University’s history. I think it was excellent to name the building after him.

Many thanks to all of you who have contributed in one way or another!

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