Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: March 2019

Sustainability – a matter for the whole University

The Higher Education Act states that in their operations, universities and other higher education institutions must “promote sustainable development to assure for present and future generations a sound and healthy environment, economic and social welfare, and justice.”

The most important contribution Uppsala University makes to sustainable development is through our students and our researchers. Educational initiatives such as the Joint Nordic Master Programme in Environmental Law, the course Global Challenges and Sustainable Futures, and the Master Programme in Sustainable and Innovative Natural Resource Management, provide our students with knowledge and tools to tackle sustainability issues on a scientific basis.

All our outstanding research in areas such as battery and solar cell research, earth sciences, antibiotic resistance, environmental law, and peace and conflict research gives us unique opportunities to contribute to new solutions to current and future challenges. We are conducting exciting research projects on the environment and conflicts, sustainable IT, water purification, sustainable and renewable energy conversion, natural disasters and climate change (extreme weather in coastal zones), pharmaceutical residues in drinking water and global health – to name a few examples.

Östergarnsholm measuring station. Photo: Stefan Osterwalder

Uppsala University Sustainability Initiatives is a new project for multi- and interdisciplinary research initiatives focusing on sustainability. The first of these initiatives, named Climate Leadership in Society and Higher Education, is under development. The Centre for Natural Disaster Science – an exciting collaboration between Uppsala University, the Swedish Defence University and Karlstad University – aims to contribute to an improved capacity to prevent and deal with risks in society, nationally and internationally. Our University also has a climate professorship, thanks to a generous donation from alumnus Niklas Zennström. The third holder of the visiting professorship, Keri Facer, will take up her position shortly.

Much is happening in other areas as well. On Gotland, a learning lab has been established for building up knowledge about sustainable development and the often complex and sometimes controversial issues involved.

Campus Gotland also hosts interdisciplinary research projects on sustainable tourism, sustainable management of the cultural heritage and energy engineering. In Uppsala, the Centre for Environment and Development Studies (CEMUS), established many years ago, seeks to contribute to a just and sustainable world through student-led education.

The University cooperates closely with Uppsala Municipality on sustainable planning. The climate change leadership node (CCL) is conducting a project on carbon budgets with municipalities and counties. The University has decided to take on a large number of the challenges defined in the Uppsala Climate Protocol, which range over several areas. The aim is to radically reduce the University’s direct climate impact by 2030.

We must practise what we preach. Our buildings are mostly managed by Akademiska Hus and we have started a process of conversion that covers everything from lighting to heating, in collaboration with them and other property owners.

The University has ensured that the foundations and management organisations that we are in a position to influence make ethically and environmentally responsible investments.

In our day-to-day activities, we are seeking to change the organisation of our meetings. The University is going to begin using the tool Zoom, which we hope will make it even easier to hold video-link and online meetings. We do not always need to meet in real time and real space, real time may be enough. The new technology offers opportunities that are not only emission-free but also improve our quality of life. What we eat and how our food is produced also plays a role for both our health and the climate. These days, it goes without saying that all restaurants operating on our premises offer vegetarian food. We always include sustainability specifications in new procurement proceses.

I know that many people want to do more and we want to take advantage of all the good initiatives that come from our students, researchers and employees. Two people with important roles to play are Professor Anna Rutgersson, Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Sustainability Issues, and Environmental Director Karolina Kjellberg. They can help the University to foreground solutions for sustainable development and highlight proposals to reduce our impact on the environment and climate. One dimension of this work is the new environmental objectives that we have just adopted and that will apply over the next three years. The common denominator of these objectives is that it should be easy to do the right thing for the environment and climate.

One action that I like to highlight is the International Office’s ‘Take the train’ initiative, in which Uppsala students can apply for EU-funded scholarships if they opt to take the train to their exchange studies destination. Another initiative is the reuse project that the Buildings Division has conducted since the move to the Segerstedt Building. Many small steps can add up to a big difference.

Uppsala University has a clear and important role – we will continue to contribute knowledge to enable the transformation of society to proceed on a scientific basis. In this way, we will fulfil our goal of contributing to a better world. Let us all do this – together.

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Open Access? Absolutely, but don’t jeopardise research quality and freedom!

(Swedish post published 7 March.)

For several years now, there has been widespread and – to be honest – rather noncommittal discussion on Open Access to scientific publications. Research results should be published in forms that make them freely available, particularly when they derive from publicly funded research. Generally speaking, all stakeholders are in agreement on this. In the latest Swedish research bill, the government writes that “the goal is to implement a full transition to Open Access to research results, including scholarly publications, artistic works and research data, within 10 years” (Govt bill 2016/17:50, p. 107).

In the past few months, an intense debate on the subject has flared up in Sweden and other countries. The transition to Open Access is suddenly surrounded by unresolved problems and sharp, fundamental conflicts between different objectives. This debate is important. No one is against Open Access as such. However, implementing a successful transition to Open Access requires clarity (which problem or problems are we trying to solve?), respect for the freedom of research (in Sweden, researchers have a statutory right to freely choose how and where they publish) and awareness that well-designed scholarly publication systems are an important dimension of the in-built quality assurance systems in research (through peer review prior to publication).

The issue has been brought to a head by Plan S, which was presented in September 2018. The plan is endorsed by a number of heavyweight research funding bodies, primarily in Europe, who have joined forces in ‘cOAlition S’. Put simply, Plan S states that from 2020 on, all research funded by these funding bodies must be published in a way that guarantees Open Access to the publications from day one. At the same time, cOAlition S dismisses the ‘hybrid’ model for Open Access. In January, an implementation plan was presented that contains some clarifications.

In Sweden, Formas (the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning), Forte (the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare) and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences) chose last autumn to endorse Plan S. The Swedish Research Council supports the basic ideas in the plan, but has refrained from joining it because of the tight timetable.

On one level, we all agree. Openness is intrinsic to the very nature of research. Research results are published precisely so that they can circulate and be read and discussed by and with other researchers in academia and beyond, and where relevant by the general public.

At another level, opinions are sharply divided. This is especially true of attitudes to the current publication landscape. In most fields of research, there is a deeply rooted consensus regarding which are the leading journals, and scientists and scholars throughout the world endeavour to publish their best articles in them. Success in publishing in such journals can make or break an academic career. Far from all of these journals currently meet the Open Access requirements made by Plan S. Some of them, though not all, are owned by the major publishing houses whose quasi-monopolistic positions and constantly increasing prices rightly arouse our indignation.

Plan S attempts to achieve a global and universal transition to a new business model in all academic publishing, in which journals charge those who publish articles instead of those who read them. No one knows at this point whether this model has any chance of establishing itself globally. This is one of the problems.

Two powerful interests are set against each other – heavyweight research funding bodies in one corner and dominant media conglomerates in the other. Those who are caught in between are the individual scholars, who would like to publish openly but above all want to publish in the channels that give their research results the widest circulation and highest status, and that best contribute to their chances of establishing themselves as independent researchers and moving forward in their academic career, whether in Sweden, Europe or some other part of the world.

So far, universities have not played a prominent role in the debate. We probably should. And our basic position should then be that, while continuing to respect the freedom of research, we support a transition to Open Access that contributes to quality and relevance, and oppose proposals that limit the freedom of research and/or undermine its quality and relevance.

From this perspective, we, the senior academic leadership of Uppsala University, see four objections to Plan S, apart from the unreasonable timetable.

1. Plan S jeopardises the freedom of research
An important part of the freedom of research is that scholars have the right to freely choose how and where they publish. In Sweden this right is even enshrined in law. Plan S threatens this fundamental freedom, which ultimately serves the common good.

2. Plan S only solves parts of the problem
The plan attempts to solve several problems, which may actually have different solutions. The aim is to achieve lower costs, more innovation and Open Access to research results for taxpayers. Plan S stakes out a path that, if followed, will indeed provide Open Access, but does not guarantee lower costs and has unclear implications for innovation and quality. The arguments that this path is the sole solution are not convincing.

3. Plan S underestimates the issue of quality
Effective publication systems drive quality, and academic career progress builds to a considerable extent on publishing in effective channels. Plan S underestimates the value of the investment made over time, ultimately by the research community as a whole, to establish top-quality journals. When assessing research expertise, it is wrong to attach decisive importance to over-simplified indicators such as the impact factor of specific journals. However, it would be equally wrong to completely ignore the question of whether scholarly work is published in journals with rigorous quality criteria or in channels that are characterised by anything but those qualities. One side-benefit of the current publication systems is that they have contributed to the growth of the standardised publication databases that, in turn, provide the foundation for bibliometric analysis. Plan S risks skewing publication and citation patterns in ways that will affect the possibility of making fair bibliometric comparisons.

4. Plan S confronts researchers with conflicting objectives
It is barely overstating the case to say that by threatening to impose sanctions and cancel grants, the research funding bodies behind Plan S have chosen to make scholars weapons in the battle against journals and publishers. Plan S confronts the individual scholar with unreasonable conflicts between objectives.

There is no denying that Plan S has brought the issue of Open Access to a head, which is good. That said, the approach chosen has fundamental problems. We should instead attempt together to create change in what in fact is an interconnected system of research funding bodies, scholars and editorial boards/publishers, which has taken shape over a long period of time. In reality, well-qualified scholars, overwhelmingly based at our universities, contribute to all parts of the system: as experts or members of the bodies established by research funders to decide on grants, as conductors of research and authors of scholarly publications, and as experts or editors in the journals that publish scholarly work.

If we are to achieve a good transition to Open Access, we need forums for common action to change the system, not shock therapy, which risks undesired side-effects. And instead of being committed to a single path forward, we should encourage a diversity of paths to Open Access. We would like to encourage the Swedish funding bodies that have endorsed Plan S to consider this.

At the time of writing, the news has come that Riksbankens Jubileumsfond has reconsidered its position and announced that, although it intends to stay in cOAlition S and its general campaign for Open Access, it no longer endorses Plan S in its present form. A brave and sensible decision in the present situation.

Eva Åkesson, Vice-Chancellor
Anders Malmberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor
Katarina Bjelke, University Director
Stellan Sandler, Vice-Rector
Torsten Svensson, Vice-Rector
Johan Tysk, Vice-Rector

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Management Council visits Aarhus

The Management Council has just visited Aarhus University in Jutland, Denmark. Our colleagues in Aarhus had prepared a busy programme for us. To begin with, Pro-Rector Berit Eika presented the university and current developments in research policy.

In the mid-2000s, the 20 universities in Denmark were merged to create eight larger universities. The university has campuses in Aarhus, Copenhagen and Herning, and research at another ten or so locations – including on Greenland. Aarhus University now has 39,000 students, 8,000 employees and a turnover of EUR 884 million. The city of Aarhus has 350,000 inhabitants. Both the city and the university are therefore somewhat larger than Uppsala.

Last year, the Danish government launched a new higher education policy, with a number of different reforms. The aim is to increase access to higher education throughout the country. They intend to do this by creating local ‘learning centres’. They also want to strengthen the link between education and the labour market and reduce the number of international students. In total, the number of places for international students in the country will be reduced by 1,000.

Like us, Aarhus University is in the midst of drawing up new strategies for the university. The focus areas are familiar from our discussions at home: internationalisation, collaboration and interdisciplinary cooperation. The strategies will be finalised this autumn, if all goes according to plan.

Uppsala and Aarhus are both members of several international university networks, including The Guild, Coimbra and the Southern African–Nordic Centre. We had an interesting discussion on how to best use the networks in which we cooperate.

After that, we were given a presentation of the Dual Careers project. The project aims to enable elite student athletes to combine sport and study, and entrepreneurs to combine entrepreneurship and study. This has required flexibility on the part of departments and the administration, more study guidance, mentors from within and outside the university, joint planning and follow-up. The hope is that some of the outcomes of the project may benefit more students.

Ten years ago, the eight universities in Denmark and the Danish Ministry of Education together established a Danish–Chinese education and research centre in China. The Executive Director of the Sino-Danish Centre, Morten Laugesen, described developments. With support from the Danish business sector, they were able to construct a building that now houses education and research facilities, but also provides 20 apartments for teachers and researchers. It is intended as an equal partnership, despite great differences, with 50/50 involvement of both parties. One consequence of this is that all projects involve both a researcher or teacher from China and one from Denmark. To date, about 1,000 students, 220 researchers and more than 160 doctoral students have participated in the Centre.

We were treated to a real Danish breakfast in the canteen at Kemikum – smörrebröd (open-faced sandwiches). After lunch there was time for the Vice-Chancellor to have one-on-one talks with the Rector of Aarhus University, while the rest of the delegation had a walk aorund the campus and the University Park.

The physical environment at Aarhus University is characterised by yellow brick, Danish architecture and design. They also have a large collection of modern art which is on view around the campus. We paid a visit to a brand new life sciences laboratory, the Skou Building, named after Professor Jens Christian Skou, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1997.

The visit concluded with a presentation of Campus 2.0 and the university’s digitisation strategy. Particularly interesting for us, in view of our Uppsala University 2050 project and our work on University-wide IT. Aarhus University has agreed on principles for the development of the physical environment, for example, sustainability, strengthening the connection between education and research, and meeting places such as cafés and convenience stores. The plans for the conversion of the old hospital area are impressive and it will be interesting to follow their progress.

Many thanks to our colleagues in Aarhus for sharing your experiences so generously with us and for an inspiring day.

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Academic leadership and multidisciplinary cooperation – themes of the spring deans day

At the end of last week, we had a deans meeting in the Humanities Theatre. Once per semester, the deans, vice-deans, vice-rectors, deputy vice-rectors, advisers to the Vice-Chancellor, heads of administrative divisions, the University Director, the Vice-Chancellor and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor gather for discussions. Altogether, there are about fifty of us. In the spring semester we spend a whole day together and in the autumn we have a lunch-to-lunch away day.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Anders Malmberg’s presentation in the Humanities Theatre.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Anders Malmberg’s presentation in the Humanities Theatre.

On these occasions, we take up topical issues. I began the meeting on Thursday by presenting ongoing developments in the University. After that, we continued with a discussion on academic leadership led by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Anders Malmberg. What does it mean to be elected by faculty colleagues? Is there scope for strategic development work? What does it mean to be a line manager or a non-line manager? How does one exercise management in an organisation of peers? Four individuals with management roles had been asked to talk about their responsibilities and their leadership and to reflect on strengths and challenges. The four were Mats Hedenius, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Eva Tiensuu Janson, Vice-Dean for Research in the Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy, Peter Lindblad, Vice-Dean for Collaboration in the Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, and Cecilia Wejryd, Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Equal Opportunities. They all generously shared their experiences. The discussion that followed will be continued. It could be a topic for the autumn away day.

University Director Katarina Bjelke then gave an overview of changes in support activities in recent years. The vigorous expansion of education and research has made new and increased demands on the University Administration as well. Changes in our environment and society also affect us, for example in terms of security, digitalisation and internationalisation. Many development projects are currently underway in the administration.

The morning continued with a thorough account of the government inquiry on governance and resources, given by Planning Director Daniel Gillberg. The University Board is due to submit the University’s response to the inquiry by 24 June. Our internal process has started and will continue with a seminar on 18 March in the University Main Building, which everyone interested is welcome to attend. For further information, see the Events list on the University website.

Finding solutions to the major challenges and issues in society requires a wide range of knowledge and expertise. Uppsala University is a comprehensive university offering subjects from languages to engineering and technology. How can we make the most of our great breadth? What barriers exist to cooperation across subject, faculty and domain boundaries? These were some of the questions that the afternoon discussion began with. We had presentations on three of our research centres. Claes Fredrik Helgesson presented the Centre for Integrated Research on Culture and Society (CIRCUS), Eva Garmendia told us about Uppsala Antibiotic Center (UAC) and Thomas Schön told us about the multidisciplinary centre for artificial intelligence (AI) that he is in the process of building up. Starting points, structures and organisations differ and the centres also differ in how far they have come in their development. UAC has been going for several years, CIRCUS has just begun, while the AI centre has not yet taken shape. Some similarities also emerged. Åsa Kettis presented some of the programmes that operate across subject boundaries. In the debate that followed, we concluded that more could be done to facilitate internal cooperation both in education and in research.

The topic of the final session of the day was the new Mission and Core Values document. Many different parts of the University, faculty boards and advisory boards have provided input. The deans meeting had received the latest version to read in advance. The discussion focused on the degree of specificity, ranking, target group and length of the document. However, everyone agreed that the proposal was well on the way. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Anders Malmberg, who is leading the process of revision, will take the views of the deans meeting into account. The proposal will be referred for internal consultation later this year.

All in all, it was a good day. The Humanities Theatre is an excellent venue for internal meetings as well. We look forward to continued discussions on several of the issues, perhaps at the next deans meeting. On Tuesday the Management Council will visit Aarhus University in Denmark. It will be interesting to see how they work on their Mission and Core Values, cooperation across subject boundaries, strategic development and academic leadership.

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