Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: July 2019

Gender equality in academia – how hard can it be?

Guest bloggers: Hillevi Englund and Sara Gredemark

“If the Academy starts to elect women, at what rung on the scale of created beings will it end?” This was one of the arguments raised in 1889 against electing Sonya Kovalevsky to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In its report “The man of science is not a woman” (PDF, in Swedish), the Allbright Foundation observes that arguments to the same effect still abound at Swedish higher education institutions, 130 years later.

Qualifications are women researchers’ best friend, according to Fredrik Bondestam, opening Uppsala University’s seminar in Almedalen on gender inequality in academia on Monday morning. For despite national recruitment targets for professorial posts and the existence of well-qualified women, the statistics are quite clear: progress towards gender equality in higher positions at Swedish higher education institutions remains painfully slow.

Led by Anneli Häyrén, Centre for Gender Research, the seminar discussed the consequences of gender inequality in academia for the quality of university research, education and practical application. The panel participants were Amanda Lundeteg, CEO of Allbright, Johanna Rickne, Professor at Stockholm University, Fredrik Bondestam, Director of the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research, Lars Magnusson, Professor at Uppsala University, and Jonas Åström, Head of Uppsala University Innovation.

Moderator Anneli Häyrén
The panel, from left to right: Lars Magnusson, Amanda Lundeteg, Fredrik Bondestam, Johanna Rickne, Jonas Åström

The panellists confirmed that “the academic cult of male genius” still persists in academia, and that if professorial appointments had only been a matter of formal qualifications, we would not have had the situation we have today, where over 70 per cent of these positions are occupied by men. So what are the other factors involved? Where are the problems, what do they look like and, above all, how are they connected?

Fredrik Bondestam emphasised the need to take a holistic approach to HR issues, conditions for research, and norms and structures at both individual and organisational level. Targeted initiatives for increased gender equality that disregard the overall picture generally have limited effect and fail to change the fundamental set of interconnected problems. Moreover, they are often counterbalanced by a ‘restore mechanism’ that helps to maintain existing structures.

Is there any hope of change? What can we do in the future to change the gender inequality of academia after 542 years? Some of the panel’s proposals for bringing about change were:

  • include external assessment when making appointments to counteract the effect of homogeneous groups of researchers;
  • use formal quotas as a tool for increased gender equality;
  • take the whole picture into account and review the entire process leading to the rank of professor;
  • provide increased education and training in gender equality issues and increased monitoring of operations;
  • make the process for appointment to post-doctoral positions more transparent and clearer.
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Focus on infrastructure

During Almedalen Week, guest bloggers will write for the Vice-Chancellor’s Blog.

Guest blogger: Margaretha Andersson

Today a debate was held on “How to bring world-leading Swedish research infrastructures into the future”. The seminar involved a large number of institutions – the universities of Lund, Gothenburg, Stockholm, Umeå, Uppsala and Linköping, Karolinska Institutet, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Chalmers University of Technology. Eva Åkesson, Vice-Chancellor of Uppsala University, was the moderator.

Sweden invests heavily in research infrastructure. This was reflected in the great interest. The seminar was full. The discussion focused on how we can move forward and prepare for the future by investing in powerful research platforms. Development is rapid and regular new investments are needed to stay at the forefront. This requires national coordination and a strategy based on the needs of many different disciplines.

Representatives of the largest ventures – ESS, MAX IV, SciLifeLab and SNIC – were united in emphasising the necessity of common priorities and a national strategy. At the same time, expectations exist throughout the country, with the business sector and health/medical care sector, for example, showing a desire to participate and gain access to the results emerging from major infrastructures. Digitisation is leading to new possibilities and offers novel tools to disciplines that have not traditionally been users of experimental infrastructure. Along with the exciting opportunities now arising to ask completely new questions, ethical issues are gaining in importance, including the processing of sensitive personal data, for example.

The Swedish Research Council has a coordinating role and a central role in funding and in international participation in important cooperative projects. This role needs to be reinforced, as the system faces challenges in the form of the current weakness of the Swedish krona, strategy issues, the division of roles and priorities. Funding bodies, higher education institutions, the business sector and decision-makers need to coordinate to ensure the investments made have a long-term perspective.

In the panel, from left to right: Ole Petter Otterson, KI, Katrin Riklund, Umeå, Johan Söderström, ABB, Björn Halleröd, Swedish Research Council, Lars Hultman, Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, Stockholm, Per Dannetun, Linköping.

There was great unanimity on now taking responsibility together, nationally. The universities, the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions, the Swedish Research Council and industry. Resources will be widely available throughout the country and Sweden’s competitiveness as a knowledge nation must be upheld by:

  1. Resources for the Swedish Research Council to safeguard investments that have already been made;
  2. A regulatory framework that allows Swedish researchers to participate fully in international cooperation and initiatives;
  3. Index-linked resources for higher education, since education and infrastructure are interconnected;
  4. Enhanced national coordination with resources for initiatives in digitisation, data-driven research and Open Science;
  5. A long-term and comprehensive vision to strengthen knowledge society value chains throughout the country.  Free research is an indispensable factor for renewal. Increased dialogue, coordination and prioritisation are required!
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