Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: May 2018

Finale for Erasmus Mundus

(Original Swedish post published 24 May.)

Over the past three days, Uppsala University has hosted concluding sessions for the three Erasmus Mundus projects we have coordinated (INSPIRE, LOTUS+ AND PEACE). As the entire Erasmus Mundus Programme concludes on 14 July this year, participants from four continents have met to sum up the projects and discuss possibilities for future cooperation.

Erasmus Mundus Action 2 (EMA2) is an EU-funded scholarship programme that has enabled students and researchers from low- and middle-income countries outside Europe to do an exchange or a whole programme at a university in Europe. Uppsala University has been one of the most active European participants in the programme and has hosted no less than 530 scholarship holders from 56 non-European countries between 2009 and 2018. The most common countries of origin have been China, India, South Africa and Brazil, but under the programme, Uppsala University has collaborated with more than 200 higher education institutions in numerous countries, primarily in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

The University has distributed scholarship funds from the programme totalling more than SEK 50 million. The majority of the 530 scholarship holders have done exchanges at Bachelor’s, Master’s or doctoral level, but many have come to take a Master’s degree or a PhD or as postdocs or visiting lecturers. Sincere thanks to all the researchers, teachers and department staff at Uppsala University who have helped to make the programme such a great success!

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Guest post: Good practice in research

(Original Swedish post published 21 May.)

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, they are appearing as guest bloggers here in the Vice-Chancellor’s Blog to write about developments in the areas for which they are responsible. This week’s guest blogger is Stefan Eriksson, Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Research Ethics and Bioethics (CRB) and Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Good Research Practice.

Good practice in research

Portrait of Stefan Eriksson

Stefan Eriksson

Today (Monday), Swedish Radio’s investigative journalism programme Kaliber examines the systems in Sweden for investigation of misconduct in research and tells what by now is a rather well-known story about microplastics and perch that took place at our University. The programme identifies several important issues. One of them is the means available to report, investigate and rectify such problems in research. At Uppsala University, the Board for Investigation of Misconduct in Research is responsible for investigating whether research has complied with good practice. The question is how long the Board will continue to exist in its present form: in all probability, we will soon have a new system for such investigations (in Swedish).

Another important issue is how to expose questionable research. What sometimes happens is that a colleague becomes suspicious and blows the whistle, as in the case described in Kaliber. At other times, technical aids can be used to reveal irregularities. One example of this was when the Australian cancer researcher Jennifer Byrne became doubtful about a number of articles concerning a gene associated with breast cancer and childhood leukemia. The articles proved to be profoundly problematic, as they described the functioning of the gene incorrectly and in addition reinforced one another so that other research faced a distorted picture of the state of knowledge. Shocked by the number of articles affected by the problem she had identified, she decided to do something about it: she is now developing software that takes a DNA sequence described in an article, runs it against a database and determines whether it actually behaves in the way the article claims.

This story points to another important question: how are we to prevent misconduct, deviations from good practice and questionable research? It also indicates that the problems and the responses to them may not always appear as we would expect. My remit as Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor is to think strategically about the issue of preventive measures. A key question then is why exactly researchers violate good practice or go wrong. The answer may take many forms. Without claiming to give an exhaustive account, let me present a few typical cases – four, to be precise. I will start with the most unusual type and end with the type that I perceive to be most common.

The fraudulent. This is perhaps the figure we most easily imagine, particularly when we read a newspaper article or watch a documentary about research misconduct. This is a person who actually deliberately invents data or exposes research subjects to excessive risks. While such cases may be spectacular and outrageous, these people probably account for an extremely small proportion of those who violate good practice. To combat such fraudulent or dangerous behaviour, the community has traditionally demanded clearer rules and exemplary punishments. Several more stringent measures of this kind are on the way. For example, we will soon have new legislation on ethical review, handling of research data and biobank research, with a clearer division of responsibilities and tougher sanctions for breaches of ethical principles. The current movement towards open science, driven particularly by the EU, is probably even more important.

When research can be thoroughly scrutinised and is accessible for peer review and public inspection, it is much more difficult to escape detection.

The deceived. Some of those who violate good practice do so because they themselves are the victims of fraud. They do not intend to deceive others or to cheat, but fall prey to the lures of those who want to profit from the desire of researchers to publish their research (perhaps for career purposes). One example of this is publication in ‘predatory journals’ – journals that falsely claim to be leading journals in their field and to have peer review, to be indexed and to have an impact factor. These days, any association with such journals is regarded as an unacceptable breach of good practice according to the leading guidelines in the area (pdf). Even if some people no doubt deliberately choose to publish in such a journal, all the cases I have so far encountered in Sweden have occurred without any apparent intention to mislead. To prevent more people from being deceived, we should teach researchers and students about this and similar phenomena, and make it easier for them to find information about which journals they can trust. At present, there is an unofficial list of journals and publishers that should probably be avoided and the University is looking into the possibility of testing a commercial and more reliable service for this.

The ignorant. Considerably more breaches of good practice than those listed so far arise out of ignorance. Many researchers have not understood that they actually have an obligation to submit their projects for ethical review. Many are also uncertain how much processing of others’ texts is needed to avoid plagiarism; this also applies widely to undergraduate students. People often know relatively little about rules and guidelines on saving, copying and archiving research data. In a recent article, Nature reported that they had demonstrated by the largest survey of its kind to date that research team leaders overestimate their knowledge about and ability to check what is going on in their team. Better routines are needed here, more templates, clearer information – and well-considered training in taking this on board. Doing the right thing must be easy – legal assistance should not be required to understand what is expected of you. The University and responsible authorities have a lot more work to do in this area. I regard this as a priority issue.

Follow-my-leader. The most common ethical problems in research, according to several empirical studies, are often perceived to be unproblematic by the people carrying out the research, or are regarded as so prevalent that they cannot be avoided. Examples include listing people as co-authors of articles to which they have not contributed, reusing certain passages from the research team’s past output, and dividing up the reporting of research into as many articles as possible, with the associated risk of fragmentation and perhaps being misleading (pdf). What these types of questionable practices have in common is that they are something people learn from those around them. People quite simply do as others do, or are ‘forced’ to adopt this behaviour just to join in at all. These are practices that exist in research cultures, that one is expected to accept for the sake of a successful research career. Messages to the effect that these practices are not accepted can easily appear naive or unrealistic – and there is no doubt it can be difficult to object to or question them, particularly for a junior researcher. Reducing this problem requires a change in the culture itself and insistent efforts to explain why these practices undermine scholarship and science. Highlighting examples of sound cultures that have an awareness of these matters and yet are successful will help younger researchers to understand that they may have a choice: it is not the case that ‘everyone’ who succeeds in the world of research tries to take shortcuts or shows poor judgement in matters of research ethics. On the contrary, caring about the credibility and honesty of research, and the respect it enjoys, can be considered commendable and lead to success.

In conclusion then, many different circumstances may explain why a person deviates from good practice in research. There is no simple solution for reducing such deviations. Efforts are needed at many different levels and in many different ways. There is obviously a great need for further strategic thinking on these issues.

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Success for SASUF in South Africa

(Original Swedish post published 18 May.)

From 14 to 18 May, I had the privilege of participating in South Africa–Sweden University Forum (SASUF)’s first Research & Innovation Week in South Africa. With 1,000 South African and Swedish participants from 30 universities, it can only be described as a success. The main seminar was held in Pretoria, but more than 40 satellite events were held during the week in 12 other cities. For example, I attended a meeting at ABB in Pretoria at which numerous Swedish companies operating in South Africa discussed with the universities the potential for collaboration between business and research.

SASUF is a cooperation project coordinated by Uppsala University and involving 23 South African and 7 Swedish universities. The objectives of SASUF are:

  • to strengthen links between South Africa and Sweden in research, education and innovation, with a focus on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030).
  • to connect universities with research funding bodies, industry, ministries and civil society.

The project is funded by the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT), the South African National Research Foundation and the participating universities. After just the first SASUF week, our hopes have been far surpassed. The next SASUF Research & Innovation Week will take place in Stellenbosch in a year’s time, and again there will be satellite meetings in various places in South Africa.

Would you like to find out more about SASUF? You are welcome to contact Gustaf Cars, gustaf.cars@uadm.uu.se, or check out SASUF on Facebook.

Two alumni events were also held during the week, one on Thursday in Pretoria and one on Friday evening in Cape Town. These were organised by SASUF in cooperation with the Swedish Institute. The Swedish Ambassador to South Africa, Cecilia Julin, generously made the Swedish residence available for the opening of the SASUF Week and for an alumni meeting at which the Swedish South Africa Alumni Network was launched. Its chair, Irshaad Wadvalla, is a former exchange student in Uppsala who has now returned to South Africa to work with various projects in sustainable development.

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Guest post: Equal opportunities

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, they are appearing as guest bloggers here in the Vice-Chancellor’s Blog to write about developments in the areas for which they are responsible. This week’s guest blogger is Cecilia Wejryd, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Theology and Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Equal Opportunities.


Equal opportunities for good research and education

Cecilia Wejryd

Six months have passed since the #MeToo movement began and it has become obvious that much still remains to be done in the area of equal opportunities and freedom from harassment and discrimination, both in society in general and in specific sectors and activities. As a university, we have a particular interest in these issues. Equal opportunities and gender equality not only create a better environment for individuals, they also enhance the quality of research and education. In other words, equal opportunities are a competitive advantage. This emerges clearly from Quality and Renewal 2017 and is apparent in the implementation of Charter & Code.

The Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Equal Opportunities is not responsible for taking action on equal opportunities at Uppsala University. This is down to departments and divisions under the leadership of their heads, supported by equal opportunities representatives, committees and groups on these issues. The HR Division and especially its equal opportunities specialists provide expertise, skills-enhancing courses and support in dealing with individual cases. My role as Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Equal Opportunities plays out in the midst of all this.

One of the responsibilities of the Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor is to chair the Equal Opportunities Advisory Board, which consists of representatives of the disciplinary domains, the students’ unions, the library, the university administration and the staff organisations. An important task for me is to help find arenas for dialogue, where those of us who play different roles in the equal opportunities area can meet across domain and faculty boundaries to inspire one another and share experiences. One such arena is the consultation group for those who lead the faculties’ equal opportunities bodies.

During the late winter, the Equal Opportunities Advisory Board conducted a follow-up of the Equal Opportunities Programme. The responses show that the programme is perceived to be relevant and necessary, that equal opportunities issues are on the agenda and that the University is well to the fore in many equal opportunities areas. It is also clear that improvements are needed in some areas. There are calls for more support for efforts against harassment and discrimination, and for more stable conditions for equal opportunities representatives.

In mid-March, we celebrated this year’s Equal Opportunities Day and presented the Equal Opportunities Award to Michael Thuné. The theme this year was #MeToo. Katarina Bernt Rasmussen and Anneli Häyrén gave much appreciated talks. The day ended with a thought-provoking panel debate. The event was well attended, but it became clear that there is a need for an English language day in parallel to the Swedish language day.

Many different important actions are under way at different levels in the equal opportunities field. Here I will just mention a few of them.

The Discrimination Act has been amended to tighten up demands for documented and active measures against all seven grounds of discrimination. The HR Division is helping departments and units to adapt their equal opportunities work and, together with other divisions in the administration, is reviewing the need for structural changes in the University’s general information and support relating to equal opportunities. At present, the HR Division and the Legal Affairs Division are jointly reviewing the University’s Guidelines for Dealing with Cases of Harassment.

Gender mainstreaming affects everyone and could certainly receive more attention. Part of what is needed is a deeper awareness of gender and gender equality in all aspects of recruitment and promotion processes. One reasonable objective is that the candidates in all recruitment processes should include both women and men. Another aspect of gender mainstreaming is to restart and further develop the online gender equality indicators tool that has been down during the restructuring of the University’s internal information and management system (GLIS).

The University’s decision to go forward with Charter & Code is fully in line with gender mainstreaming. I see Charter & Code as a multifaceted means of increasingly integrating equal opportunities and gender equality in all activities at the University.

The recently adopted Action Plan for Broader Recruitment is also a significant component of our equal opportunities efforts. The plan sets out new objectives and strategies for our efforts to combat social recruitment imbalances in our educational programmes.

I would also like to mention the initiative of the Buildings Division to make the University accessible regardless of disabilities, and the University’s diversity initiative, which includes placements and training in diversity-aware management and development.

The faculties’ equal opportunities groups and equal opportunities representatives at departments and divisions take numerous interesting initiatives, ranging from literature analyses from an equal opportunities perspective to developing a Code of Conduct for employees. I cannot present all the good projects here but encourage you to get in touch with your local representative for further discussion.

In my work this spring, I have particularly focused on finding tools to increase the proportion of women among professors and heads of department at Uppsala University.

If Uppsala University is to continue to be one of the world’s highly ranked universities, work on equal opportunities is essential. Equal opportunities and gender equality enhance the quality of research and education!

Cecilia Wejryd, Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor

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