Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: June 2019

Uppsala University has had its say on governance and resources inquiry

Like other higher education institutions and authorities in the higher education sector, we have now submitted our consultation response to the final report of the Government Inquiry on Governance and Resources, “Long-term, coordinated and dialogue-based governance of higher education” (Swedish Government Official Reports, SOU 2019:6). Read the consultation response here (PDF, in Swedish).

Throughout the period of the inquiry, we have discussed its remit and its proposals within the University, within the sector and directly with those conducting the inquiry.

So what do we say? We like the emphasis on the autonomy of higher education institutions, the need for a long-term vision, core academic values, a closer link between education and research, and the trust-based model of governance in the higher education sector.

At a time when the freedom of research is facing restrictions and the importance of independent universities is being called into question in various parts of the world, it is essential to review our national legislation and to be alert to proposals that may be well-intended but in practice lead in the wrong direction. Uppsala University considers that greater autonomy and increased freedom of action are crucial to maintaining and enhancing the quality of education and research in the long term.

So what will happen now? What do we hope for? What are we concerned about? Naturally one can only speculate about which of the inquiry’s proposals may be implemented in practice.

We hope that we will somehow be given the opportunity of greater flexibility in the use of resources between education and research.

We also hope, in the long term, for increased basic government funding for research, though we do not want this to be achieved by moving funds from the Swedish Research Council.

We think the proposed four-year agreements are a bad idea. This would lead to increased bureaucracy at the expense of education and research and bring a risk of increased micromanagement.

We do not like the proposed model for funding education. We hope instead that the current model of funding ceilings will be reviewed and not least that the price tags will be reformed and restored to the 1993 level. Resources for education need to increase. The number of contact hours is low in Sweden compared with other European countries. This can affect the quality of education and Sweden’s long-term competitiveness.

Now the government will compile all the consultation responses and then we will see what the outcome is. However, the discussion will continue, in the first instance during Almedalen Week.

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Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Anders Malmberg. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

Midsummer will be here in a few days and holidays lie ahead. Much has happened since the semester kicked off with the freshers’ reception and winter conferment ceremony. It seems a long time since we celebrated our new doctoral graduates, honorary doctors and prizewinners to the sound of cannon salutes fired by Jämtlands fältartilleri in a snowy Uppsala. 

It was also in January that Sweden – finally – had a new government. In February, the Government Inquiry on Governance and Resources delivered its report. We are not entirely happy with it. We are concerned that the inquiry’s proposals – despite many good intentions – in practice pave the way for more micromanagement. These concerns are voiced in the consultation response approved by the University Board last week. 

Towards the end of the winter, the principles of academic publishing came to the fore as never before in a debate fuelled by the transition to Open Access and more specifically ‘Plan S’. The question of accessibility and opportunities for everyone to access scholarly publications is vital and complex. Our position is that we should think before we leap and ensure that the transition to Open Access is made while respecting academic freedom and the quality assurance promoted by high quality journals. The debate continues. 

Around the same time, we delivered our response to the Internationalisation Inquiry, in which we argue that the universities need greater freedom of action. Our practical experience in this area shows that micromanagement by the government makes us slow and ineffective. 

Throughout the spring we have been working on a European University Alliance proposal with our friends in the U4 network, enlarged by the University of Tartu to become U4Society. A decision is due at the end of June. If our proposal is approved, we will become an even stronger hub in the development of the European university arena. 

We celebrated the last day of April, Walpurgis Eve (Valborg), in style, with Orphei Drängar male-voice choir singing beneath the balcony of the University Library and traditional celebrations in the evening at the Gunilla Bell Tower, with Allmänna sången choir and Curator Curatorum’s speech. 

Just after Valborg, Carolina Rediviva reopened after renovation and rapidly became a favourite refuge for students cramming for exams. A week later, on 8 May, the Centre for Integrated Research on Culture and Society (CIRCUS) opened. CIRCUS will provide another important forum where research challenges will be identified and tackled from exciting new angles. 

On 24 May it was time for the beautiful and solemn spring conferment ceremony – a worthy conclusion to many doctoral students’ intensive studies. It is pleasing to be able to celebrate these academic ceremonies together, across faculty lines, and gain a tangible picture of the breadth and global reach of our University.

This midsummer week we have enjoyed several major research successes. Vinnova (Sweden’s innovation agency) has awarded funding to eight national competence centres, of which no fewer than three are based in Uppsala. Warm congratulations to Christel Bergström (drug delivery), Kristina Edström (batteries) and Cecilia Persson (additive manufacturing for life sciences) and all your talented team members and external partners! The same day, it was announced that the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences had won funding for a major programme in the area of environmental communication from Mistra (the Swedish foundation for strategic environmental research). We are significantly involved through SWEDESD (the Swedish International Centre of Education for Sustainable Development). 

Environmental and sustainability issues are increasingly prominent, not least the threat of climate change. The best way we can contribute is by educating students and through research that, at our comprehensive university, covers every aspect of these issues. The new research ventures that have won major support are concrete examples of how our research can contribute in practical ways to more sustainable development. 

A sustainable future is also the theme of this year’s Almedalen Week – the final event of the spring semester for our part. 

We look forward to an exciting autumn, when we will give our input to the new research bill and finalise Uppsala University’s new mission, goals and strategies document. But now we would like to thank all of you who have engaged in research, taught or studied at Uppsala University or have collaborated with us. We share your pleasure in success and endeavour to create conditions that will provide scope for your creativity to grow at Uppsala University. Our thanks also to everyone who makes demands on and supports the University in one way or another. Together we make the University a better place, semester by semester. 

Have a good summer!

Eva Åkesson, Vice-Chancellor

Anders Malmberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor

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Operational plan adopted at June meeting of University Board

It’s the time of year for end-of-term celebrations at school, graduation ceremonies and also the University Board’s last meeting of the semester. As usual, I started the meeting with the Vice-Chancellor’s report (PDF, in Swedish).

At this meeting, we had a visit from the Swedish National Audit Office, which has audited the University’s annual report for 2018. The report received an unqualified opinion. For several years, Margareta Edman Bojeus has audited our activities. She is now retiring and we expressed our thanks to her for many constructive discussions over the years. The new auditor will be Jenny Hedman, who presented the audit plan for 2019. Next year, the audit will pay special attention to the IT environment, holding activities, funding from fees, investments and improprieties. The University’s Internal Audit function presented two reports, one on internal management and control and one on secondary occupations. Our ambition is that it should be easy to do the right thing, and this applies to both areas audited. We need to clarify and simplify reporting and dealing with secondary occupations, and the HR Division and Legal Affairs Division have already started to tackle this.

One of the year’s most important decisions is taken at the June meeting – the adoption of the operational plan for the next three years. As the government decides on resource allocation on a year-by-year basis, the allocation of resources can only apply to 2020, but the operational plan provides clear planning frameworks for 2021–2022 as well. Wide-ranging consultation lies behind the plan. We have had dialogues with each disciplinary domain and discussed the operational plan together in the Vice-Chancellor’s Management Council on several occasions this spring. The plan is inspired by the University’s Mission and Core Values statement and the ambition to strengthen our position as a world-leading research university. The strategic priorities will be familiar: we continue to focus on quality, internationalisation, infrastructure, talent attraction and retention, sustainability and strategic renewal. Direct government funding for research will increase slightly. We will continue our commitment to career-development positions for young researchers and visiting professors. We will also commit resources to enable more researchers to spend time at a foreign university. Co-financing of research infrastructure represents an increasingly large item of expenditure. University-wide investments will be made in artificial intelligence, research in educational sciences and subject didactics.

Turning to education, we will continue to expand our healthcare and teaching programmes, though somewhat more slowly due to changes in instructions from the government. A redistribution of existing places between disciplinary domains will enable us to launch new programmes, for example a social work programme and a new Master’s level engineering programme in industrial economics. The expansion of educational programmes at Campus Gotland continues and the target remains 1,500 full-time equivalent students. The number of international students is increasing and the University will continue its commitment to Swedish language education and the Language Workshop. The students’ unions will receive additional funding to reinforce student liaison services for international students. The Student Health Service will also receive additional funding to meet international students’ needs. A new financing model for the University Library will apply from 2020 onwards. The 55 pages of the operational plan contain much more besides and the whole document will be published on the University’s website and on the intranet (Medarbetarportalen). The framework has been set – now it is up to the disciplinary domains, faculties and departments to translate it into education and research.

The meeting continued with discussion and adoption of the University’s consultation response to the Government Inquiry on Governance and Resources. We will publish the response here in the blog in a week or so. It has to be submitted to the government by 24 June.

The University Board decided to start the process of recruiting a vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellor for the period 2021–2026. I have made it known that I am not available for a further period. It is important that we have a good process that complies with the new rules of procedure, which clarify how the process should run at Uppsala University.

The Vice-Chancellor has a mandate from the University Board to revise the Mission and Core Values. This has been a major undertaking, led by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor as project manager. The draft will now be circulated for internal consultation and hopefully the University Board will be able to adopt the new mission statement in December.

University Board meetings include a presentation of research at the University. On this occasion, Professor Solveig Jülich from the Department of History of Science and Ideas presented her research in medical humanities and social sciences. I look forward to the film about the project, which is due for release this autumn.

Student influence at all levels plays a crucial role at Uppsala University. At this meeting, it was time to express our appreciation to some of the departing student representatives on the University Board. Mathias, Fredrik and Therese – thank you for your commitment. Your views have made an important contribution.

We concluded with lunch at Carolina Rediviva. This gave the University Board a chance to see our splendid University Library after renovation.

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A week of European networking – The Guild and Coimbra

(Swedish version published 8 June.)

This week I have attended meetings of two European networks of which we are members: The Guild and Coimbra. First there was the General Assembly and Rectors’ Meeting of The Guild in Tübingen. We discussed the European Union’s next framework programme, Horizon Europe, with Wolfgang Burtscher, Deputy Director-General of DG RTD, who had been invited to our meeting. Apart from that, most attention focused on the European Universities initiative, both at this meeting and at the Coimbra meeting in Krakow later in the week. The first call has attracted 54 proposals involving around 300 universities in all. There is great interest in the initiative, which was first mooted by Macron in a speech at the Sorbonne in 2017. In all likelihood, just as many are planning to apply in the next call, which opens in the autumn. The proposals vary widely and in view of the great interest, the idea is being discussed of increasing the number of projects in the next call to allow up to 24 proposals to be approved. Our own proposal is based on U4 and is called U4Society. Uppsala University is applying jointly with Tartu, Groningen, Ghent and Göttingen, and we are now eagerly awaiting the outcome of the first call, to be announced on 28 June.

In conjunction with the Coimbra meeting in Krakow, a conference was held on “Women in universities – the past, the present and the future”. I took part in a panel entitled “Role of women in higher education – experiences, best practices and challenges ahead”. It feels valuable to share the experiences I have gathered over the years and I hope this is a useful contribution to others’ leadership. This was my last meeting of the Coimbra Rectors’ Advisory Group (RAG), as I have now served two terms and it is time for me to step down. These two European university networks are very useful to us, both for the sake of influence in Brussels and for experience exchange. The Guild focuses more on research, being an association of 19 research-intensive universities, while Coimbra is a broader network with an emphasis on education and 39 members. The two networks complement one another well. They are a source of the latest news on current and upcoming developments, are good channels for jointly influencing upcoming programmes in Brussels, and help us to prepare better for future calls for proposals.

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Scholarship recipients meet donor

(Original Swedish post published 4 June.)

By now, it has become a fond tradition to make an outing to Morgongåva and Starfors at the beginning of June to give the Chinese students who have received support from the Anders Wall Scholarship Foundation for Studies at Uppsala University an opportunity to meet the donor behind the scholarships. Nearly 100 students have received scholarships through this donation since the programme started in 2011, enabling them to take a Master’s programme at our University. Many have testified over the years what a “life-changing experience” this is. As time goes by, it also becomes increasingly obvious how much this means both for Uppsala University and for Sweden.

This year too we were given a warm welcome by the University’s Honorary Fellow, Anders Wall. We visited Morgongåva Business Park, where several successful eCommerce companies, such as Apotea and Adlibris, have operations. Apotea has impressive new premises, with almost 40,000 square metres of warehouse space and an enormous solar cell installation on the roof. It is also pleasing to hear that many Uppsala students have had the opportunity to work at these companies alongside their studies at Uppsala.

The programme also included a visit to Gårdsjö Moose Park, where entrepreneur Leif Lind took us on a tour of the moose he has in his enclosure. Below, Olivia is nursing her calf while patriarch Holger tries to get in closer contact with the photographer.

The day concluded at Starfors Säteri, where Anders Wall treated us all to a splendid lunch at the mill. Apart from Anders Wall and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the picture shows the students Di Peng, Tiantian He, Leyi Su, Lan Ma, Zhigang Wang, Yan Yang and Peiyu Wang. Below, the patriarch Holger.

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International advisers visit

Last week, we had a meeting of Uppsala University’s newly established International Advisory Board (IAB). This group consists of people with great experience of academia and university leadership who have agreed to come to Uppsala about once a year to give critical and constructive views on subjects and issues that we present. Those who participated in the meeting were Edward Byrne, President and Principal of King’s College London, Kjersti Fløttum, Professor at the University of Bergen, Meric Gertler, President of the University of Toronto, Helle Praetorius, Professor at Aarhus University and chair of one of the Q&R17 panels, and Tuula Teeri, former President of Aalto University and current President of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA). The sixth member of the IAB, Harlene Hayne, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Otago, was unable to attend on this occasion.

The focus was on three questions: the Q&R17 project and in particular how the University has taken on board and implemented its conclusions and recommendations, the ongoing revision of the University’s mission, goals and strategies statement, and the current joint application with the universities of Ghent, Groningen, Göttingen and Tartu to be selected as a European University Network pilot project.

The discussions were lively. The Q&R project and its follow-up received a positive response. The whole approach was regarded as innovative, bold and forward-looking and the measures we are taking were considered reasonable. With regard to the mission, goals and strategies statement, the feedback can be summed up as being that we ought to be able to raise our ambitions and should attempt to make the document sharper and shorter. The EUN initiative wound up in a general discussion about internationalisation strategies, the need to seek university partners that represent excellence and to avoid becoming too narrowly European in our cooperation.

Our work on university management and leadership also needs to be subjected to peer review. The value of discussing important issues with experienced ‘critical friends’ who see what we do with an outside perspective can hardly be overestimated.

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