Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: December 2017

The year behind, the year ahead

With Christmas and the New Year upon us, it is time to sum up and assess a busy year, and to look ahead.

For those of us in the management – and for many members of staff – Quality and Renewal 2017 featured prominently in the year’s work. Together, we have reviewed and analysed all of our research environments. The external review performed by more than 130 critical friends has given us constructive feedback on what works well and what needs development. During the year, we have also started on our educational evaluations. We are steadily gathering the knowledge we need to be able to move our University forward.

Exercising responsibility for quality is a core university activity and is essential if we are to attract well-qualified students, staff, teachers and researchers. It is pleasing to note that our programmes continue to attract high numbers of applicants. In fact, we have more applications than any other university in Sweden. We also perform well in the annual rankings and obtain a large share of the resources distributed by research funding bodies. However, success does not entitle us to rest on our laurels. We continue to forge ahead. Boundary-crossing research initiatives are a good example. Some of those launched this year are Circus (the Centre for Integrated Research on Culture and Society), the research school UAC (Uppsala Antibiotic Centre), Upptech and UUSI (Uppsala University Sustainability Initiatives).

International scholarship recipients.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

‘Boundary-crossing’ is also an apt description of our student body. Our students are a source of inspiration and new perspectives that make us better. We are happy about our growing number of international students, our workplace is multicultural and we have taken major steps this year towards greater internationalisation. Parallel language use is one such step, and we are also endeavouring to take a broader approach to staff recruitment.

International students learning to play Bandy with Uppsala club Sirius.
Foto: Mikael Wallerstedt

The year has also involved a number of inaugurations and new investments in our physical infrastructure. The Segerstedt Building, the Humanities Theatre, the Rudbeck Laboratory, Carolina Rediviva and Ångström are major building projects that have been completed, begun or approved this year. It is exciting to see the expansion and to note how well the new buildings have turned out.

Official opening of the Humanities Theatre. Photo: David Naylor

Official opening of the Segerstedt Building.

But all is not well. We live in a troubled world. We have seen terror create chaos and political decisions cause uncertainty. An authority who was a guiding light – Hans Rosling – left us far too soon. In his absence, we must continue to fight against fact resistance and for a more equitable world.

When the world around us is shaking, it is even more important that we stand firm in our convictions and principles. We do so by continuing to promote a more open society. Networks and cooperation are important routes in the right direction and this has been a year of many meetings and many journeys. The Management Council visited partners in the United States, the Guild network gives us a stronger voice in Brussels, the Southern African–Nordic Centre (SANORD) has celebrated its tenth anniversary, the Matariki network is steaming ahead and here in Sweden we have established Lärosäten Öst (Higher Education Institutions East). The year has also been notable for the much-needed discussions on power structures and sexual harassment, on how we behave towards one another and how we protect the vulnerable. The National Centre for Knowledge on Men’s Violence Against Women and its telephone helpline have existed for 10 years and sadly are needed more than ever. The #MeToo campaign affects us all and discussions on how to move forward are in full flow.

2017 års SANORD-konferens i Zimbabwe.

At the welcome reception for new students at Campus Gotland.

At the University, 2017 has been a ‘super election year’. The University Board has a new chair and several new members. Deans and vice-rectors have been newly elected or re-elected for new terms, as have the Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. After all the election and consultation processes, we have an experienced management team that looks forward to the years ahead. One of the things we look forward to in 2018 is celebrating that Gotland has been part of our University for five years. The cooperation is thriving and we have a new programme pointing the way ahead.

Now we would like to conclude by expressing our thanks to our staff and students for the year that has passed, for work well done and for all the enthusiasm and dedication we have encountered during conferences with heads of department and deans, Management Council meetings, visits to departments and students’ unions, student collaboration meetings, staff meetings, meetings with the unions, and more.

We are also grateful for your trust, look forward to seeing you in the New Year and hope that you all enjoy a wonderful ending to 2017.

Eva Åkesson, Vice-Chancellor
Anders Malmberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor
Katarina Bjelke, University Director
Stellan Sandler, Vice-Rector for Medicine and Pharmacy
Torsten Svensson, Vice-Rector for Humanities and Social Sciences
Johan Tysk, Vice-Rector for Science and Technology

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At Lucia time

(Original Swedish post published 12 December.)

On Tuesday morning, Eva Åkesson had the pleasure of starting the day by deciding which of our researchers and students would receive scholarships worth a total of more than SEK 17 million. These scholarships are made possible by donations to Uppsala University from individuals who wish to support young people, education and research. The money makes a great difference, both to individual people and to the University. In addition to these scholarships, students at Uppsala can also benefit from the plethora of scholarships available from the student nations.

Later in the morning, Uppsala Student Union presented a report on students’ psychosocial health. Mental ill health is a serious problem in society – particularly among young people. This is an important report which provides a good basis for continued work on these issues, which we think are best addressed jointly by students, the Student Health Service and the University as a whole.

Tuesday continued with the last University Board meeting of the semester. The members had braved the weather and made their way to Uppsala from near and far. The agenda consisted mostly of information and discussion items. We had a preliminary discussion on the budget figures that the University has to send to the government in February, and we talked about doctoral education.

The University Board decided to appoint Anders Malmberg Deputy Vice-Chancellor for the next three years. That completes the university management team starting in 2018, the deans, vice-rectors and Vice-Chancellor having been appointed earlier this year.

University management has increasingly become a matter of teamwork. We are ready and eager, as Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, to continue working together with undiminished vigour for another three years to create conditions for quality and renewal in our research, education and external collaboration.

First of all, though, we must make sure to give the best possible reception to the many Nobel laureates and other guests visiting Uppsala University on Lucia Day. The shadows may brood over our sun-deprived world at this time of year, but tomorrow it will be bright and warm in our well-filled lecture halls.

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Educational evaluations: now we’ve made a start!

(Original Swedish post)

Today an important new tradition was launched in the Ihresalen lecture hall at the English Park Campus. Uppsala University held its first annual conference on educational evaluation, with more than 200 participants. The conference will be an annual feature of Uppsala’s new quality assurance system for education.

In Uppsala University’s model of educational evaluation, the responsibility for the design, implementation and follow-up of educational evaluation rests with the disciplinary domain/faculty boards. The model has two components: annual systematic follow-up of education, and educational evaluations by an external reviewer every sixth year. The annual follow-up is part of the domains’ responsibility for the quality of their educational programmes and forms an integral part of the model. The more comprehensive external evaluations are intended to assure and enhance the quality of educational programmes, with the overarching purpose being to achieve the University’s general goal of offering educational programmes of the highest national and international standard. Read the guidelines for the system here (in Swedish).

In February 2018 the faculties will present their plans for the evaluation of all their programmes over a six-year period. Ten pilot evaluations have been carried out in 2017. Experience and results from these pilot evaluations were presented at the conference. Experiences differ in detail but one thing almost all had in common was that the local educational environments had felt strong ownership and felt that the process of working on educational evaluation in itself enhanced quality. The enthusiasm was palpable.

It’s pleasing and promising that a University-wide conference on educational evaluation attracts so many enthusiastic participants. It’s a joy to see teachers, students, directors of studies, degree programme coordinators, senior faculty administrators, deans and others from every part of our broad University working together and exchanging experiences on how we can make our educational programmes even better!

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Why are higher education institutions building up capital?

(Original Swedish post published 5 December.)

The Swedish National Audit Office has undertaken a survey and analysis of the agency capital held by higher education institutions. Its report is entitled: “Why are higher education institutions building up capital?” The report was published last week and was presented on Monday during the Higher Education Forum in Linköping. The report gives an instructive account of agency capital and how it comes into being. Overall, it gives a reliable and balanced picture of how the agency capital held by higher education institutions (HEIs) has built up, above all over the past decade, along with some reasonable recommendations to both HEIs and the government.

Agency capital consists of accumulated resources saved by HEIs, deriving from unused government allocations for education and research in past years. Agency capital does not include external funding that has not yet been used. The total agency capital accumulated by the HEIs comes to around SEK 12 billion, which corresponds to 19 per cent of the sector’s annual turnover. In absolute terms, research allocations contribute most to agency capital, but in relative terms, a larger share of education allocations are saved. Agency capital increased most in 2009–2011, when the HEIs were given significant (temporary) additional educational responsibilities, which coincided with major new research funding being made available after the 2008 Research Bill. Since then growth has been more moderate, but has remained at a high level.

The build-up of agency capital is often considered incompatible with efficient use of central government resources. Large accumulations of agency capital mean that central government resources are held unused by HEIs instead of being employed in the sector or used for other state budget priorities. Having said that, it is not unreasonable for HEIs to have a certain buffer for dealing with the uncertainties of complex activities like education and research, and to give them scope to make strategic investments.

Furthermore, the fact that agency capital remains at a high level for several years does not mean that new money remains unused. The example of Uppsala University can serve to clarify this. Between 2012 and 2016, the University’s budget rose from SEK 5.5 billion to SEK 6.6 billion. This means the volume of activities – research and education – increased by an average of SEK 275 million per year during this four-year period. During the same period, the University’s agency capital increased by an average of SEK 56 million per year, from SEK 1.153 billion to SEK 1.378 billion in total. SEK 56 million is less than one per cent of Uppsala University’s total budget. We can therefore conclude that during these four years – a period of rapid expansion, historically speaking – the University managed to use 99 per cent of the research and education appropriations it received each year. It may take a while from a decision to allocate new funding until students are admitted and teachers and researchers employed, but it is wrong to say that resources are being hoarded.

Nevertheless, it is important that universities themselves have control over their agency capital and a strategy for how best to use it, just as it is important that the government has control over and sends clear signals about how HEIs are managing the situation. The National Audit Office report makes some recommendations, which are reasonable on the whole.

The government should ensure clear, strategic and transparent management and follow-up of agency capital at HEIs by developing criteria to assess the size of agency capital based on the needs and situation of individual HEIs.

HEIs should establish a more favourable environment for using agency capital, and should provide more adequate information to the government by ensuring the existence of documentation showing the breakdown of agency capital into reserved and unreserved funds.

The line between these two categories can be quite tricky to draw. Otherwise the National Audit Office’s recommendations are reasonable.

Uppsala University sees its agency capital as a resource to be included in operational planning and budgeting just like other resources. It is reasonable that the University has a certain amount of agency capital so that it can maintain a preparedness for new initiatives, unforeseen events and changes in government instructions. Like the National Audit Office, we consider it important to have a certain buffer, though the University must limit the size of its agency capital.

During the past year, Uppsala University has clarified and tightened up its internal limit values for agency capital. The target for the University’s agency capital is 5–15 per cent of turnover (measured in costs) in research and doctoral programmes and 5–10 per cent in undergraduate and Master’s programmes. The difference is explained by the fact that more than half of research funding comes from fixed-term external funding, while education is largely funded by more predictable government appropriations. The existence of agency capital in different parts of the University should also be taken more clearly into account when assessing proposals for new strategic initiatives.

In each disciplinary domain, the target for agency capital is 0–15 per cent of turnover in research and doctoral programmes, and 0–10 per cent in undergraduate and Master’s programmes. The disciplinary domain/faculty boards set the limits for agency capital at department level.

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SANORD (Southern African–Nordic Centre) celebrates 10th anniversary

(Original Swedish post published 2 December.)

Right now, I (Eva) am on my way home from the very successful SANORD conference in Zimbabwe. SANORD (Southern African–Nordic Centre) is a network consisting of 46 partner universities in the Nordic region and southern Africa, which I am chairing in 2017–2018. SANORD was founded in 2007 so the organisation celebrated its 10th anniversary during this year’s conference. Ten years together – from 7 members to nearly 50, with annual conferences, joint research projects, student mobility and an increasing number of joint publications. There are many reasons to feel proud about what we have achieved together during these ten years. Our next meeting will be in Jyväskylä, Finland, in August 2018.

South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor

In the weeks leading up to the conference in Zimbabwe, many of us were nervously following political developments and wondering whether we would dare to make the trip or not. Following Mugabe’s resignation and the peaceful transition of power, most participants decided to travel to Zimbabwe anyway, as planned. We were given a warm welcome and our Zimbabwean colleagues very much appreciated our coming to the conference.

Professor Brian O’Connell (former Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape) and Professor Sigmund Grönmo (former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bergen), who took the initiative for SANORD and were its first two chairs, participated and reflected on the way SANORD has developed over the year and the future outlook. A total of 150 participants from the member universities were present, as well as South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor, and the Permanent Secretary of the Zimbabwean Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development, Professor Francis Gudyanga. Zimbabwean media (TV and newspapers) reported from the conference. During the conference, which was on the theme “The role of universities in research & knowledge transfer to improve the livelihoods in Southern Africa”, the South Africa–Sweden University Forum (the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education project that I have written about before in this blog) met to plan its major seminar in Pretoria in May 2018.

Project meeting of the South Africa–Sweden University Forum

The delegation from Uppsala University consisted of 11 people: myself (Eva Åkesson), Professor Sten Hagberg (Forum for Africa Studies and Dept of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology), Professor Birgitta Essén (Dept of Women’s and Children’s Health), Professor Per-Anders Edin (Dept of Economics), Dr Shepherd Urenje (Swedish International Centre of Education for Sustainable Development), Dr Peter Sundin (International Science Programme), Rebecca Andersson (International Science Programme) and Gustaf Cars, Oddny Sverrisdottir, Erika Andersson and Ulrica Ouline (all from the International Office).

For questions about SANORD, please contact Ulrica Ouline, ulrica.ouline@uadm.uu.se

For question about South Africa–Sweden University Forum, please contact Gustaf Cars, gustaf.cars@uadm.uu.se

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