Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: January 2019

Winter Conferment Ceremony in snowy Uppsala

(Original Swedish post published 25 January 2019.)

Today we celebrate scholarship at this year’s Winter Conferment Ceremony at Uppsala University. We began early this morning with the traditional cannon salute from the Castle hill and the ringing of the Cathedral bell. As usual, gunners from Jämtlands fältartilleri are firing the cannon salute.

The day’s events follow a strict programme. The Conferment Ceremony in the Grand Auditorium starts at 12:00. Cannon salutes continue during the ceremony, to honour the faculties, the 90 graduating doctors and our 19 honorary doctors, who come up to the stage to receive the tokens of their new status – laurel wreaths, doctoral hats and diplomas – accompanied by music performed by the Royal Academic Orchestra. At the Winter Conferment Ceremony, the University also awards numerous prizes. This year we have 11 prizewinners, who are being recognised for their contributions and commitment to knowledge.

The titles of the graduating doctors’ theses reflect the breadth and diversity of the University. The topics range from systems for space propulsion to the history of Swedish Jews and the victims of Nazi terror, the complexities of childbirth, male friendship, matter–antimatter interactions, and the genesis of a new Swedish Bible translation. You can read more about the ceremony, the doctoral theses and the prizes in the Conferment Ceremony book. The book also contains autobiographical notes by Professor Arvid G. Högbom, in which he writes about the development of the University and science in the early 20th century.

After the ceremony in the Grand Auditorium, celebrations continue at the faculties’ receptions, followed in the evening by a banquet at Uppsala Castle.

The Vice-Chancellor’s speech at the ceremony.


The cannon salute from the Castle at 7 a.m. Photo: Eva Åkesson


Firing in progress! Photo: Annica Alvén


Jämtlands fältartilleri fire the cannons outside the University Main Building.


The University Main Building and park in winter finery. Photo: David Naylor


Students bearing standards lead the procession into the Grand Auditorium. Photo: Annica Alvén


The procession on the way into the Grand Auditorium for the Conferment Ceremony. Photo: Annica Alvén


Read more about the graduating doctors, honorary doctors and the Conferment Ceremony in this year’s Conferment Ceremony book.

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Winter day in Visby

Once a year, the Vice-Chancellor’s Management Council spends a whole day at Campus Gotland. We assembled for departure brutally early on Monday morning, but were rewarded by the stunning sight of the blood moon, a celestial phenomenon that astronomers tell us will next recur 10 years from now.

We devoted the morning session to a regular Management Council meeting, with a break to watch the Statement of Government Policy and the presentation of the new ministers. In his statement, the Prime Minister emphasised the importance of research for Sweden as a knowledge nation, and pledged that both free and challenge-driven research will be strengthened. This is good. Education and schools also received a lot of attention. The plans for yet another reform of teacher education are cause for concern – what is really needed is surely a long-term perspective and a chance to get on without being disturbed. Otherwise, the most prominent issues were sustainable development and the environment, health and social care, integration, security and democracy. We also got a new minister for higher education and research, Matilda Ernkrans. We have already invited her to visit us for a presentation of Uppsala University and look forward to a good working relationship.

After the Management Council meeting we had lunch with Campus Gotland’s students’ union Rindi. One of the priorities for both the students’ union and us is student housing with 12-month contracts. One challenge for the students’ union is to adapt its working methods in response to the many new international students.

The afternoon began with a strategic discussion on the development of Campus Gotland. In July it will be six years since the merger and we can say it has been a success story. So far the focus has mainly been on strengthening undergraduate education. Fifteen new degree programmes have started since 2014. Last year we had more than 1,100 students on campus and more than 1,000 distance students. A fifth of the students are international. The University’s only two international Bachelor’s programmes are in game design and are taught on Gotland. More degree programmes will start in the autumn. This is an impressive development. Now the focus is shifting more to issues of strengthening research and research environments. Much has already started and is in progress – sustainable tourism, energy, digitalisation, conservation, Blått centrum (a centre for water-related issues), children’s health. There are plans to launch an interdisciplinary graduate school on the theme of water and energy. If all decisions are taken, a dozen doctoral students placed on Gotland will be admitted in the coming year.

Rapid development generates new challenges. The premises are beginning to feel crowded, larger teaching rooms and more offices are needed. The presence of so many new international students makes new linguistic demands on staff, teachers and students.  We need to improve the technology for distance education as well as opportunities for staff to participate in continuing professional development and meetings.

The merger phase must soon be regarded as over and we are entering a new, more regular phase. The Advisory Board for Campus Gotland has been working on its input to the revision of Uppsala University: Mission and Core Values, and this has raised the issue of Campus Gotland’s ‘special status’. To what extent will we continue to need separate goals, measures and forms of management for Campus Gotland? This is a discussion we need to pursue over the coming year. However, the fundamentals are clear: activities in Visby will be firmly integrated in Uppsala University’s regular structures and quality systems, while ensuring that we take advantage of the unique opportunities for multi- and interdisciplinarity and the development of the cohesive campus environment, and that the activities are clear and transparent to our partners in the Gotland community in which they are set.

The afternoon continued with a meeting with staff at Campus Gotland at which we discussed ongoing developments nationally and internationally, at the University and in the different disciplinary domains.

The day’s last stop was Region Gotland for a meeting with politicians and officials, which has become an annual tradition. The agenda focused on follow-up of our strategic collaboration agreements with the region. We have a good cooperative relationship, which among other things offers our students the chance to do independent degree projects and other projects in various parts of the region’s administration. We saw a presentation of a student project in which our game design students have worked with student health services in the region to develop a game to promote health and wellbeing among students with functional challenges. A student project, an idea, that has potential for development into a product and perhaps a business. Another example is cooperation between the teacher education programme and our 10 partner schools in the region. This gives our students the chance to work one day a week in school, a ‘trainee position’.

After a long day we returned to Uppsala, a bit tired but above all inspired. Campus Gotland has really become an essential and dynamic part of Uppsala University.

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New semester, new challenges, new approaches

(Original Swedish post published 17 January.)

The holidays are over and now everything’s getting going again. For many students, this is the big exam week. Meanwhile, on Friday we will hold the traditional freshers reception to welcome new students before the semester starts formally on Monday. The world around us is full of uncertainty. Will we have a new government tomorrow, and what sort of research and education policy will it pursue? What will happen about Brexit in the end, and what will the consequences be?

The lake at Sigtuna was looking at its best when the Management Council met there on Tuesday to Wednesday to plan for the year ahead. The vice-rectors told us what’s going on in the disciplinary domains. The students presented their priorities and we looked at developments in the national and international arenas and what we are working on at University-wide level.

Sigtuna lake.

We discussed which issues are most important to concentrate on if we want to lay the foundations for the University’s long-term development. Some of the issues near the top of the list are autonomy, integrity and self-determination, as well as how to ensure strong public confidence in the University. The issue of our own capacity for renewal is similarly important. To serve the society we are part of, we must keep in touch with our surroundings and be prepared to constantly re-examine and renew both our education and our research. The greatest challenges in our world have to do with sustainability in a broad sense of the word, but the defence of the open society, democracy and civil rights and freedoms has also become an increasingly relevant objective for universities in the world today.

We had a session on the ongoing revision of our “Mission and Core Values”. Committees, strategic councils, the students’ unions and the doctoral board have submitted numerous ideas and suggestions and the project group has begun to integrate them into a document that will be finalised during the spring. In the process going forward, preliminary versions will be discussed at meetings with deans and heads of department, as well as with groups of staff and students, external partners and international advisers.

We discussed Open Access, more specifically Plan S, as it is known. A number of European research funding bodies, including the EU, are seeking to force a change in the business models used by academic journals, from a subscription-based system to a system in which authors pay a publication fee, after which their articles are made freely available to all. One consequence of Plan S is that, starting in 2020, researchers who receive support from affiliated funding bodies will have to publish in journals that offer – or intend to offer – Open Access in accordance with this model, which far from all leading journals currently do. In Sweden, Forte, Formas and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond have joined the coalition behind the initiative (which is called cOAlition S), while the Swedish Research Council has chosen to remain unaffiliated for now. We share the Swedish Research Council’s wait-and-see approach to this issue. Though the objective is laudable, the timetable is too radical and the consequences have not been adequately studied. There is an obvious risk that researchers will be caught in the middle in the short run.

We used part of the away day for our own skills development, under the heading of time and time use. How do we use our working hours? How can we find enough time, and how can we work more efficiently? Most of us have access to powerful digital tools in our computers that we only use a fraction of because we never take the time to learn properly how to use them. We learned how to avoid being ruled by our email inbox by adopting a structured way of working with calendars, email and to-do lists. We also touched on how to save one another’s time by good email culture: one item of business per email, a clearly specified topic in the subject line, short messages, no irony, cc only those who really need the information, and avoid “Reply all” as far as possible. And complicated issues, discussions and particularly conflicts should never be dealt with by email at all. Make a phone call instead or arrange a short meeting. For many of us participants, it was an instructive and practically transformative session.

Your now time-conscious and efficient management wishes you a happy new 2019!

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