Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: April 2019

We celebrate together

Tomorrow Uppsala welcomes the arrival of spring, whatever the weather. It’s a tradition that has come to be a celebration for the whole city. This has been made possible, not least, by cooperation between the local authorities, the police, property owners, student associations, the University and many others.

The last day of April is celebrated in Uppsala as nowhere else. We celebrate together, students, local residents, young and old, and many who travel to Uppsala just to be part of it.

We create our own traditions and add to them. The running of the falls began in 1975 at the initiative of students Anders Ahnesjö and Carl-Johan Hansson. The event has been developed into a week-long festival by the Uppsala Union of Engineering and Science Students. The running of the falls itself starts at 10:00. This year, 120 rafts will set off on the adventurous course down the River Fyris. I won’t be riding the river this time. However, I will have the honour of choosing the most spectacular raft.

People will be partaking of a traditional herring lunch all over the city. Many will do so in Ekonomikum Park, others on Castle Hill. As for me, I will be eating my herring at Uppsala Konsert & Kongress. I always enjoy that.

One of the highlights of the year, for me, is raising my student cap at precisely 15:00 and welcoming the arrival of spring from the balcony of Carolina Rediviva Library. This tradition was launched by one of my predecessors, Torgny Segerstedt, in the 1950s, and it’s magical to gaze out over the masses gathered below and see all the waving caps. These days we can also look forward to listening to the great Uppsala choir Orphei Drängar (OD) singing on the steps of the library. This concert is a relatively new tradition, which began when we closed the University Main Building for renovation. (Now it’s Carolina that has been through a major renovation. Anyone who visits our fantastic library building on 2 May will be able to see the result.) After that, it will be time to change for Allmänna Sången choir’s annual Walpurgis ball at Uppsala Castle. At about nine in the evening, we will go out to listen to spring songs and the traditional speech at the Gunilla Bell, before ending the evening at the county governor’s.

I encourage you all to to have a really good time, but don’t forget to drink responsibly (make every second drink water). Look after yourselves and each other. And pick up the litter.

I hope you all have a wonderful day. Thank you, all of you who make the last day of April such a great party!

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Many strategic issues before the University Board

A coffee cup and the printed agenda of the University Board meeting.

I have just returned from an overnight meeting with the University Board. Once each semester we have a slightly longer meeting. This gives us time for strategic discussions, presentations of ongoing work, follow-up and in-depth analysis. These are the sorts of things there is not always time for at the ordinary meetings. This time we met in a sunny Sigtuna. As always, the key question is: how should we develop the University’s education and research? How can we strengthen the position of Uppsala University in society and increase our capacity for strategic renewal at every level? How should we approach issues such as academic freedom, autonomy, self-determination, integrity, collegiality, leadership and student influence?

Over the past few years, the University’s management team has pursued clear strategic priorities by various means. There has been quality and quality assurance and enhancement systems, skills development, careers and working environment, internationalisation and infrastructure. Lately we have added sustainable development as a further strategic priority. We have had special programmes in several of these areas and are now working on integrating them into our new mission, goals and strategies document. During our two-day meeting we received follow-up reports on several of the programmes.

Quality and quality enhancement are an integral part of education and research at Uppsala University and a strategic priority. The University Board adopted a Programme for Quality Work at Uppsala University in April 2008. The Quality Advisory Board has conducted a follow-up of the programme under the leadership of Chief Quality Assurance Officer Åsa Kettis. The meeting began on Wednesday with Åsa describing our system of educational evaluations, and presentations from the various disciplinary domains gave us a picture of their activities in this area. Åsa also updated us on what is being done to take the findings of the Q&R17 research evaluation into account.

The University Board also received a status report on Development Plan 2050. This is a three-year project focusing on the University’s physical development and shape that has now reached the half-way point. The project addresses a range of issues. How should our learning environments be designed? What research infrastructure needs does the University face? How should we ensure safety and security? How should we get from one part of the University to another? How should we approach sustainability? Where and how can the University expand and grow? Several workshops and open seminars have been held. Proposals on specific goals and plans are beginning to take shape. It is going to be exciting to see how all this progresses.

We also had an opportunity to discuss the latest draft of our mission, goals and strategies document. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Anders Malmberg gave us a progress report. Three members, Ulla Achrén, Roland Roberts and Carl Anderson Kronlid, were given an opportunity to share their initial reflections before we opened the floor for discussion. There were numerous constructive comments, giving Anders and the working group food for thought as they continue their work. The document will return to the University Board in June before being circulated internally in the University for comments and then hopefully returning once more to the University Board for a decision in December. To be continued.

The University Board also provides the members of the administrative board of Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds. Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds currently manages 604 foundations. The returns on these foundations go to research, scholarships, the University Library, academic ceremonies and more besides. The foundations enable us to keep the Linnaean Gardens open and our collections accessible to researchers, students and the public. Moreover, without them we could not guarantee housing for our international students. Academy Treasurer and Managing Director Kent Berg was at hand, along with the board of Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds to present himself and the operations.

On Thursday we had our ordinary meeting. As usual, it began with the Vice-Chancellor’s report on events since the previous meeting (PPTX, in Swedish).

Next on the agenda were Internal Audit’s annual report and a report on the management of resources in our education activities. We also had a first discussion of the operational plan for 2020, led by Planning Director Daniel Gillberg. The University Board is due to adopt the plan in June. We then moved on to a discussion of our proposed consultation response to the Inquiry on Governance and Resources. Many good comments came in. The draft will now be circulated internally to enable the faculties and disciplinary domains to submit their comments before the University Board delivers its response at the end of June. So the discussion will continue.

A working group led by the Chair of the University Board is working on revising the University’s rules of procedure. This is a major and far-ranging undertaking. The upcoming second round of consultations will give the disciplinary domains, faculties and departments a chance to have their say. After the comments have been collated, the University Board hopes to be able to take a decision on new rules of procedure in the autumn.

We then had a presentation on the follow-up of the Programme for Sustainable Development by Tom Pettersson of the Planning Division, and a presentation of the follow-up of the Programme for Internationalisation by Ellen Sjöholm, also of the Planning Division. Both these areas are strategic priorities of relevance for the University’s future development. The follow-ups were produced by the Advisory Board for Sustainable Development and the Advisory Board for Internationalisation. The University Board noted that the University has made major advances in both areas.

The meeting concluded with a decision by the University Board to appoint Caroline Sjöberg as new University Director. She will take up her position on 1 October. We wish Caroline a warm welcome.

Many major issues and matters of principle were up for discussion at this meeting in preparation for decisions that will be taken later this year. It is invigorating to engage in discussion – to let different opinions encounter one another – as we did over these two days. I believe that this leads to better decisions for the entire University.

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Many good points, but some significant omissions in the Internationalisation Inquiry report

Today we submitted our consultation response to the report of the Internationalisation Inquiry “Ökad attraktionskraft för kunskapsnationen Sverige” (“Making Sweden more attractive as a knowledge nation”, Swedish Government Official Reports 2018:78), an important and eagerly awaited report that takes up many strategic issues for the future of the sector. It has been a good process: inquiry chair Agnetha Bladh has kept up a close, ongoing dialogue with higher education institutions (HEIs) in Sweden and the report contains many highly relevant and well-reasoned proposals and recommendations. However, that does not mean we agree with everything or that there is nothing we miss.

Let us first recall some important general comments that we made on the first interim report, which the final report still does not adequately address.

Swedish HEIs need greater freedom of action and authority to make their own decisions in international matters. We have, and have always had, many close contacts around the world and the obstacles that crop up in our regular activities are obvious to us. Here the inquiry has not come up with satisfactory proposals on the way ahead. It offers no changes in some areas that we ought to be able to take for granted, like joining international networks without asking the government. This was a problem that came up a few years ago when we joined The Guild, a university network that is strategically important for us.

The inquiry report still does not discuss the importance of research infrastructure for internationalisation in any depth. It contains many proposals on education, but there are significant challenges in the area of research and these call for more attention. Research infrastructure is expensive, technically advanced and very much requires good opportunities for international collaboration.

Many measures still need to be taken to meet the goal that 25 per cent of all students will have spent at least three months abroad by 2025. Among other things, the national study administration systems must better reflect travel in connection with placements and degree projects.

It is good that the inquiry highlights the need to increase awareness of Sweden as a knowledge nation. It’s high time.

In the current revision of our mission, goals and strategies document, we note that the University operates in a global context characterised on the one hand by various types of partnerships and exchanges, and on the other hand by competition for talent and resources. Internationalisation is a strategy that supports the University’s development and helps enhance the quality and relevance of our education and research. And we have come a long way. We are building up new partnerships, for example, one of the largest research cooperation ventures between Sweden and South Africa, SASUF, and we have submitted an expression of interest in developing a European university network (EUN), together with our colleagues in U4. Moreover, we see a great increase in the number of fee-paying students who want to study here. We are working in these areas at all levels of the University.

We HEIs drive our own process of internationalisation and, this being so, it would be a mistake to continue to build on the current system of offices of innovation and science at Swedish embassies abroad, as the inquiry proposes. In organisational terms, these offices belong to the Government Offices, far from where internationalisation takes place in real life. To be sure, the inquiry proposes a pilot project in which two new offices would be set up closely linked with the ‘internationalisation platform’ that it proposes should be constructed in Sweden – and that these would subsequently be evaluated, together with the issue of which entity should be in charge. But that is not enough. To begin with, the pilot project should include HEIs’ own initiatives, such as our office in Hanoi, Vietnam, and Karolinska Institutet’s office in Hong Kong. These offices have substantial experience.

In addition, the link to the platform in Sweden would not result in HEIs having any significant influence. It is good that the inquiry underlines how desirable it is to bring about national coordination and collaboration on strategic internationalisation. We agree entirely. However, we have objections to the composition of the steering group for the platform, with government agencies mainly directing activities, while HEIs would have two representatives. If this proposal goes through, the higher education institutions will more or less be reduced to acting as implementers of orders from the steering group. Moreover, given the role of the Swedish Higher Education Authority as a supervisory authority, it is quite inappropriate that it should also have a role in the steering group for the platform.

We are happy about several parts of the inquiry report, for example, the proposal to further develop the Swedish system of scholarships for third country students. This is necessary. In the long run, having more international students can improve the quality and breadth of the courses and programmes we offer, not least at Master’s level. The proposal would give us increased control over scholarships from the Swedish Council for Higher Education, which is a good thing, and we are positive to the ‘flagship scholarships’ linked to strong research environments. However, it is a challenge to identify these environments and to ensure that the scholarships are long term. It takes time to embed new offers.

We are sceptical about the proposal that we should be allowed to use 0.3 per cent of our direct government funding for education for reducing tuition fees. Every krona of our direct government funding is needed to guarantee the quality of our core activities, which are already stretched financially. It would be preferable to be able to make certain reallocations within the framework of our income from fees.

In many respects, this inquiry has put its finger on the most important points, and we now look forward to it being translated into actual reforms.


(See also what we wrote when the inquiry presented its report in October 2018.)

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