Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: April 2018

University Board meeting on Gotland

(Original Swedish post published 26 April.)

Once a semester, the University Board meets for an extended overnight conference with study visits and strategic discussions. This time we were on Gotland. After the flight to Visby, the bus ride across Gotland, and a windy and chilly ferry crossing to the island of Fårö, we were met by Kerstin Kalström with coffee and home-baked buns at Hammars, Ingmar Bergman’s home on Fårö. Bergman’s home is now managed by the Bergman Estate on Fårö Foundation, which enables artists, authors and film-makers to spend time there. Since Uppsala University is involved in the Foundation, our researchers also have this opportunity, which many are keen to make use of. We continued with a visit to Bergmancenter, which has exhibitions illustrating Bergman’s role as film-maker, author and Fårö resident.

After lunch we moved on to Campus Gotland, where Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor Olle Jansson and Deputy University Director Therese Iveby Gardell presented the University’s activities on Gotland. They gave us both a historical retrospect on the merger and its rationale, and a future outlook with plans for the next five years. Campus Gotland is five years old in July and is a real success story. Sometimes it’s useful to be reminded about all we have achieved and that it is still a work in progress.

In the evening, County Governor Cecilia Schelin Seidegård hosted us at the Residence. She is a great supporter of Uppsala University and Campus Gotland and has contributed to Campus Gotland’s success and to good cooperation in the region. It was an enjoyable dinner.

On the second day, we had an ordinary University Board meeting. As always, the meeting began with a Vice-Chancellor’s report, which is an update on what is going on at the University and what has happened since the previous meeting.

Many of the speakers at the meeting took part via a link from Uppsala. This was a very hands-on way of showing how we are working on travel-free meetings and communications between Uppsala and Gotland. It all went smoothly.

Much of the morning session was devoted to auditing and our internal audit. Margaretha Edman Bojeus from the Swedish National Audit Office and our own Director of Finance Claes Nilsson went through the National Audit Office’s report. Internal auditing is the University’s tool for ensuring that the University follows rules, guidelines and procedures, and works systematically to achieve its objectives. Internal Auditor Sven Jungerhem participated via a link from Uppsala. Internal Audit has analysed the situation of heads of department and directors. This analysis will serve as useful input in the review of the role of head of department that the Vice-Chancellor has decided to conduct. Internal Audit also told us about an audit of the University’s operational planning. It shows that the process works well on the whole.

Uppsala University’s Mission and Core Values are given specific form and substance in various programmes and action plans. At this meeting, we had a follow-up of the programmes for external collaboration and equal opportunities. The Vice-Chancellor was also instructed by the University Board to revise the Mission and Core Values and see whether it is possible to find a structure in which the various thematic programmes can be integrated. The instructions call for the revised proposal to be ready for adoption in December 2019.

The final point on the agenda was a preparatory discussion and progress report on the operational plan for 2019–2021. The University Board is due to decide on the plan at its meeting in June. Daniel Gillberg introduced a thorough follow-up of education, research and collaboration based on the Mission and Core Values. It ranged from the publication of research findings and changes in the number of fee-paying students to the number of students taking freestanding courses, the number of doctoral students and progress in the initiatives concerning assistant senior lecturers and gender equality. This was followed by a discussion of fundamental factors and key issues in this year’s operational planning process.  By way of conclusion, the University Board also received a short report from the working group on the University’s rules of procedure.

The members of the University Board also constitute the Board of Foundations associated with Uppsala University (SSAUU), under whose supervision Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds manages 604 foundations, each with their own statutes and rules. The Managing Director of Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds, Kent Berg, reported on developments and results in 2017. Thanks to the foundations, several million kronor can be distributed each year in the form of scholarships for the University’s students, research grants, support for cultural heritage, etc. Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds, incidentally, recently acquired the property that houses most of the activities at Campus Gotland. The foundations enable Uppsala University to do many important and good things that would not otherwise be possible.

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Honorary fellows at Uppsala exhibition in Tokyo

(Original Swedish post published 24 April.)

The Deputy Vice-Chancellor (writing) is on a flying visit to Japan to attend the opening of the exhibition “The Art of Natural Science in Sweden: Treasures from Uppsala University”. The official opening took place on Monday evening (Japanese time), in the presence of a hundred or so invited guests, but plenty of people were already there in the morning. The King and Queen of Sweden and the Emperor and Empress of Japan were given an advance showing, watched by a huge number of media representatives. This was a special occasion for Uppsala University, as both King Carl Gustaf and Emperor Akihito are honorary fellows of our University.

Uppsala was represented by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and by Gustavianum: Deputy Director Mikael Ahlund, who has curated the exhibition; Senior Adviser Catharina Lindqvist, the driving force behind the event; and Museum Director Marika Hedin.

The exhibition is about the interplay between art and science in the 17th and 18th centuries. The focus is on four well-known Uppsala figures – Olof Rudbeck the Elder, Olof Rudbeck the Younger, Carl Linnaeus and Carl Peter Thunberg. It has been put together in cooperation between the university museums in Uppsala and Tokyo and is on display at the Intermediatheque museum facility, located in the former Tokyo Central Post Office, until 26 August 2018. Anyone heading that way is warmly recommended to visit it.

The exhibition is part of the celebration this year of 150 years of diplomatic relations between Sweden and Japan, which were established in 1868. The exhibition itself is also a reminder that scientific contacts between Japan and Sweden go almost a century further back than that. Linnaeus disciple Carl Peter Thunberg made his famous and important research visit to Japan as early as the mid-1770s.

The opening of the exhibition also provided an opportunity to draw attention to current efforts to strengthen research contacts between Japan and Sweden. The MIRAI project involves seven Swedish and eight Japanese universities – including Uppsala and Tokyo – that are seeking to develop cooperation in fields such as ageing, materials science and sustainability.

Many thanks to the sponsors and to those at Gustavianum and the University Library whose hard work and professionalism have made this event possible!

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A perfect conference with heads of department

(Original Swedish post published 22 April.)

Whether or not it was a perfect overnight conference is a question for the heads of department to answer, not us, but the sign that greeted us on our arrival certainly raised our expectations. It read ‘Perfekt internat’. (As you may know, the Swedish word for ‘head of department’ is ‘prefekt’.) We have annual overnight conferences with our heads of department – it’s important and rewarding to meet across department, faculty and disciplinary domain lines to discuss shared challenges and to get to understand one another better. This semester’s overnight conference focused specifically on the role of head of department. We are conducting a pilot study to analyse the issue and Oskar Pettersson described how far that study has come. Three heads of department gave their views and reflections on the project. On the second day, we turned our attention to career support. Three heads of department gave us examples of the career support provided at their departments. This exchange of experience was widely appreciated. Uppsala University’s new model for career support was presented by Åsa Kettis and we then divided into groups to discuss what is needed in future and how we can best prepare teachers/researchers to be the academic leaders of tomorrow.

Back in Uppsala we met Uppsala University Postdoc Association. UUPA is a newly founded association for postdocs, an important group that is sometimes a little neglected. A good initiative!

Anders has left for Japan where he will take part in the opening in the presence of the King and Queen of Sweden and the Emperor and Empress of Japan of an exhibition of treasures from the University’s collections in Museum Gustavianum, which will be on show in Tokyo during the spring and summer. The exhibition is about the interplay between art and science in the 17th and 18th centuries. The focus is on three well-known Uppsala figures – Olof Rudbeck, Carl Linnaeus and Carl Peter Thunberg.

I (Eva) am sitting at Copenhagen Airport right now hoping to be in time for the Dag Hammarskjöld Lecture at Uppsala Castle later today. The speaker is UN Secretary-General H.E. António Guterres. The lecture begins at 17:00 and will be streamed live online (so if I’m not in time I can always watch it online).

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Guest post: University for sustainability

(Original Swedish post published 13 April.)

The Vice-Chancellor has appointed six Advisers to the Vice-Chancellor to work with the University management on a number of University-wide issues. These are Campus Gotland (Olle Jansson), internationalisation (Anders Backlund), equal opportunities (Cecilia Wejryd), research infrastructure (Kristina Edström), sustainability (Anna Rutgersson) and good research practice (Stefan Eriksson).

During the spring, the Advisers will appear as guest bloggers here in the Vice-Chancellor’s Blog to write about developments in the areas for which they are responsible. The first guest is Anna Rutgersson, Professor of Meteorology and Section Dean for Earth Sciences, and on top of that, as stated, Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Sustainability Issues. Uppsala University’s overall objective is to “gain and disseminate knowledge for the benefit of humankind and for a better world”, through education, research and collaboration. It is difficult to imagine a more relevant area for achieving this objective than sustainable development, in a broad sense of the term.

University for sustainability

April – now light and spring are with us again after months of cold and darkness. It is easy to feel motivated to work for a sustainable future for our world, and for our University. As Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Sustainability Issues, it is my privilege to work on University-wide issues of relevance to sustainable development and to promote joint efforts to use our University’s fantastic resources to achieve more in this area.

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development set out in Agenda 2030 are shared objectives that we can use as a starting point for creating a better world for all. The university and higher education sector can potentially do much to address these goals. Naturally, one thing we can do is to limit the direct burden on the climate and environment caused by our own activities and staff. Still more important, however, is our ability to work towards the common goals through the education we give our students and through our research. It is these activities that enable us to achieve a greater impact and wider influence. We must remember in this context that the Global Goals focus not just on ecological but also on social and economic sustainability.

Uppsala University conducts top-quality research in many fields. We could use this research even better to achieve the goal of contributing to a better world. I am convinced that the way forward is to increase opportunities and motivation for research cooperation between disciplinary domains and fields. It is in these border areas that we can find new solutions and research that breaks new scientific ground.

Last December, the Vice-Chancellor approved funding to coordinate a number of research initiatives crossing subject and domain boundaries, under the name of Uppsala University Sustainability Initiatives (UUSI). We have now started the process of defining these initiatives. On 22 May, 13:00–16:00, we are organising a workshop to discuss possible initiatives, and I hope for many creative ideas and enthusiastic participants. Anyone interested can register here (form in Swedish).

Turning to the direct impact on the environment and climate for which the University and its staff are responsible, there are several interesting and difficult questions to work with, and considerable interest among staff and students. One recurrent issue that we are working on concerns staff travel, another is how Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds invests the University’s funds and what ethical and other considerations should be taken into account in making these decisions. No investments are now made in companies in the oil industry or the arms industry, for example. Is using investments as a tool the right way for various types of organisations to influence the development towards sustainability? We will discuss this and other questions at a panel debate on sustainable investments on 19 April, together with researchers and representatives from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra) and the Council on Ethics of the Swedish National Pension Funds. We would also like to draw attention to Earth Day, which takes place on the following Sunday, 22 April. Everyone is very welcome to participate.

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Input to the government inquiry on governance and resources (STRUT)

(Original Swedish post published 27 March.)

On 4 January 2018, the government inquiry on governance and resources (STRUT) presented a proposed general model. The proposal is intended to serve as a basis for continued dialogue and is described in the report as an outline designed to encourage different stakeholders to present comments that will help to move the work of the inquiry forward. The issues that the inquiry is dealing with are important and in this response, Uppsala University would like to offer some comments on the proposed model.

On one level, it is easy to sympathise with the starting points and assumptions formulated for the general model. Core academic values, closer links between education and research, the emphasis on a long-term perspective, trust and agreements – these factors are rightly emphasised as fundamental principles for a governance and resources system for the higher education sector.

Despite this, our position on the proposed model is fundamentally critical, for two main reasons: first, in our view, the inquiry has so far failed to address certain quite essential issues; and second, in practice the proposal opens the way for increased micro-management and increased monitoring of the activities of higher education institutions.

Although some of the problems described are very recognisable, the level of precision and analysis is inadequate to justify the sweeping changes that the inquiry proposes. Uppsala University does not find that the inquiry has managed to build a convincing case for the need for a completely new model of governance.

Several essential points need to be resolved – if not in detail, at least in principle – before a general governance model can be set out. In this respect, the inquiry has put the cart before the horse.

These essential points include the following:

  • Are concepts such as ‘agreement’ – and ‘trust’ – at all meaningful in a context where higher education institutions are not independent legal entities and where the government appoints both the majority in the board and the head of the institution?
  • To work in the long term, the agreements would need to replace the current annual appropriation directions, which in turn would presuppose that Swedish higher education institutions had greater institutional autonomy than is now the case.
  • It could also be asserted that agreements of the kind described would shift the strategic initiative from the board to the government. Is that desirable?
  • Further, it is not apparent how government bills, institutional strategies, agreements, appropriation directions and follow-ups would be synchronised and coordinated in the governance system. There is an obvious risk that one would be added on top of the other.
  • If educational capacity and funding are not to be regulated by a settlement system as at present, what principle will the alternative be based on? At present, the government can influence educational quality by the level of price tags and quantity by the funding cap. For specific areas, the government can also give targeted instructions to increase capacity, exercising either hard or soft governance. What are the equivalent governance mechanisms in the proposed model? And how will the flexibility that the design of the funding cap model de facto offers be guaranteed in an alternative system? On our assessment, the inquiry underestimates the flexibility and decision-making freedom that the current model offers on the education side.

Even if it is difficult to take a position on every aspect of the general model, we therefore consider there is a considerable risk that it will open the way for increased micro-management and increased monitoring and control on the part of the government, which would result in poorer conditions for top quality education and research.

We therefore propose that the inquiry also look at other alternatives, in the first place, adjustments to the current governance model. In practice, this model gives higher education institutions considerable freedom of action, even if it needs adjusting in certain respects.

The inquiry should also more clearly include the issue of autonomy in the discussion. Increased autonomy (at a minimum, giving Swedish higher education institutions special powers to enable them to act as independent legal entities) is essential if a model involving agreements is to be at all meaningful. Another question concerns legislation to establish not only the freedom of research but also the freedom of education, as a starting point for discussions on the governance of higher education institutions based on political objectives.

The regulation in Sweden of qualification descriptors and qualitative targets in the Higher Education Ordinance is almost unique in an international perspective, and far from satisfactory.

The following sections elaborate the thinking behind our comments.

Governance model: increased autonomy promotes quality

Increased autonomy promotes quality in education and research. It is good that the inquiry raises core academic values as a fundamental pillar and sheds light on the need to remove obstacles to increased freedom of action and better collaboration. It is also a good philosophy to base the governance model on trust. However, the inquiry’s proposals risk leading instead to increased external governance and reduced autonomy. The level of institutional autonomy in Sweden today is uniquely low by international standards, and consequently greater freedom of action and increased control over their own affairs are perhaps the most important prerequisites for enhancing the ability of Swedish higher education institutions to develop.

In the best of worlds, the four-year agreements could lead to an increased emphasis on long-term perspectives and reduced political micro-management. However, there is an obvious risk that the opposite will be the case. Current international experiences, e.g. from Norway, show that the introduction of similar agreements if anything resulted in increased micro-management.

Since it is reasonable to assume the annual appropriation directions will continue to exist, in practice the four-year agreements would simply add another layer of governance. An increased emphasis on long-term perspectives and improved dialogue can also be achieved using existing instruments.

The procedures for higher education bills and four-year agreements raise a number of questions. In what order will the documents be prepared, and when? Is it realistic, for example, to believe that a government in office will be satisfied to exercise governance over higher education institutions on a single occasion, presumably at least three years into its term of office? We believe there is a considerable risk that the agreements would be supplemented by other, more ongoing governance.

We do not see the need for an intermediary function. We understand that the Ministry of Education and Research may need to reinforce the analysis function, but establishing an intermediary follow-up function risks undermining the dialogue between the higher education institutions and the Ministry, resulting in a weaker Government Offices.

Funding of education and capacity planning

The most serious danger we see concerns the proposals on the funding of education and capacity planning. The framework proposal means eliminating the current model of settlement involving a funding cap and price tags linked to the number of enrolled students and their performance. It is remarkable that this is done without offering the least hint of any alternative.

Fundamentally, the current model allows considerable freedom and flexibility in terms of educational capacity planning in general (allowing both government funding and student performance to be saved). At the same time, in principle the higher education institutions own the question of the educational mix and the balance sought between full-time equivalent students and annual performance equivalents.

The main problem in the current model concerns the price tags, which are probably too numerous and possibly poorly designed, but above all suffer from erosion. It is not clear how the new model will solve the structural underfunding of education. The risk is surely rather that the integrated funding that is proposed will make it even more difficult to argue for quality enhancement (read: more resources per student) than the current model, in which the real value (read: erosion) of the price tags can at least be followed over time.

Making the education component of funding in a new model part fixed and part variable is likely to have a marginal effect, unless the fixed part is completely dominant (90% or more) and the variable part only plays a marginal role. But the system will still presuppose some mechanism that governs both capacity planning and quality (= resource input per student) and until such a mechanism is described, it is impossible to take a position on the model.

One of the conclusions of the inquiry Högre utbildning under tjugo år (‘Higher education over twenty years’; Swedish Government Official Reports 2015:70) is that the educational supply in general is well balanced and that the capacity planning system is basically effective. The inquiry also finds that the educational supply meets the needs of the employment market, with the exception of some important but clearly defined shortage occupations in the school system and health and social care. Firmer governance would risk cramping the initiative of higher education institutions.

The issue of the skills supply in the school system and health and social care calls for a concerted national effort. There are many reasons why the need for labour is not met in these areas, some of which are beyond the control of higher education institutions (shortage of practice placement opportunities, lack of student interest). The work of higher education institutions on capacity planning must not be condemned wholesale because of a few significant problem areas. These specific problems must not be allowed to shape the entire governance model; a special solution is needed for them, but let the responsibility for capacity planning otherwise rest clearly with the individual institution. There is nothing to suggest that central government would be better at planning the capacity of educational programmes than the universities, together with students and in dialogue with society at large.

We also question the inquiry’s conclusion that the current governance model is to the disadvantage of lifelong learning. Education in Sweden is organised into courses that are well integrated with one another. All higher education institutions offer freestanding courses and tuition-free education makes these courses accessible to all. Instead, a crucial question is who is to finance lifelong learning. It cannot be the responsibility of the higher education institutions to offer tuition-free continuing professional development to broad sectors of society. Such courses should largely be regarded as contract education.

Give higher education institutions flexibility in their use of resources

Uppsala University sees the need for and advocates a freer use of funding for education and research, but the inquiry’s proposal makes the price of integrated funding too high. The inquiry believes that increased governance imposing new tasks would be necessary to gain approval for the proposal. We consider that it should be possible instead to create increased flexibility within the framework of the current governance model without imposing new tasks on higher education institutions. One method would be to allow higher education institutions to make some redistributions between education and research, say 10 per cent of their funding. Another way to create flexibility would be to allow higher education institutions to use their agency capital (saved funding) freely, regardless of which branch of activity it derives from.

Another key issue that is barely touched upon is whether reporting should continue to be divided up between education and research. Funding and reporting should go hand in hand, and the proposal in the outline model would therefore presuppose adaptation of the Association of Swedish Higher Education model to yield the intended effect. At the same time, it is well known that external research funding bodies demand separate reporting of research overheads.

Another underdeveloped part of the proposal concerns how to calculate the funding. The inquiry proposes new principles for calculating the funding but it is unclear how these are intended to work. Uppsala University finds it remarkable that the inquiry wants to dismantle the quality-based redistribution of basic funding and replace it with principles that appear to be largely political rather than quality-enhancing.


Eva Åkesson, Vice-Chancellor

Anders Malmberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor

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