Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: November 2019

Heading for sustainability with the region

Today Uppsala University signed sustainability pledges at a ceremony at Uppsala Castle, together with representatives of the region and municipalities, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and County Governor Göran Ernander.

County Governor Göran Ernander and Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor Anna Rutgersson

This constitutes a declaration of intent that we will act jointly to reduce our climate impact by various measures. The more actors in the region join this platform on their own individual basis, the greater the effect will be. It provides direction and creates commitment. We describe our undertaking in a joint opinion piece in the Uppsala newspaper UNT.

The climate challenge demands commitment and action at every level: international, national and regional. Others have praised the climate efforts in the county, but to achieve the national targets, we need to raise our level of ambition. We who created a common platform today can create change in our own organisations through governance documents and plans, but together we can achieve more.

A while ago we signed an agreement with Akademiska Hus to collaborate on shared sustainability goals, and the other day I decided on a climate pot to stimulate climate initiatives at the University, with a view to reducing our own climate footprint. We have long participated in the Uppsala Climate Protocol initiative, aimed at making Uppsala fossil-free by 2030 and climate-positive by 2050. Another current development is that we are poised to begin a revision of the University’s environmental plan, an important document to hone our internal efforts. And most importantly: Uppsala University continues to educate students and conduct research, thereby contributing the skills and knowledge required to solve the challenges facing society. Here we have long been at the forefront. But here too, we are taking new steps, for example by identifying areas where we can work in interdisciplinary ways with research, and education, in the area of sustainability. Change does not happen from one day to the next, it happens step by step.

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We back our students’ demands

The chairs of all students’ unions at Uppsala University have written an opinion piece headed “The government must save higher education”, published today in the Uppsala newspaper UNT. In it, they take up the erosion of resources that has occurred in recent decades. They object to the fact that the government only addresses research policy in its upcoming research bill and does not even mention higher education. They are quite right. Education is both an integral part of successful research and a prerequisite for the continued supply of new researchers. It is high time to turn the spotlight on the needs of education, preferably in a separate education bill focusing on quality and on the needs of society and research.

The demands the students put forward are absolutely legitimate: stop the erosion of the ‘price tags’ (the allowance per student that higher education institutions receive), scrap the productivity deduction (it’s not possible to learn more quickly now than in the 1990s) and revise the model for calculating the price tags.

One of the proposals we make in our input to the research bill is that 75 per cent of the erosion should be restored over the next four years to ensure the quality of education. To ensure renewal and regeneration, more unrestricted places are needed, in addition to places earmarked for specific educational programmes. It is also important to protect the freedom of education by law, just as research now enjoys constitutional protection. At a time of political uncertainty, it is vital to guarantee the independence of the universities.

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Inauguration of Professors a ceremonious occasion to call academic values to mind

Today we installed 25 new professors at a grand ceremony in the University Main Building. The ceremony was the culmination of a week of well-attended public inaugural lectures that gave the audience a fascinating sample of many aspects of our multifaceted University. Read about the professors and their research.

The Inauguration of Professors is a solemn and splendid ceremony in the darkness of November and as always it began with music played by the Royal Academic Orchestra. In the traditional inauguration speech by the Vice-Chancellor, I welcome the new professors to our University. In their new role, they are an important part of the future!

During the ceremony we heard lectures by:
David Håkansson, Faculty of Languages: Sooner or later – the history and story of Swedish.
Tove Fall, Faculty of Medicine: Shortcuts to new remedies.
Philippe Wernet, Faculty of Science and Technology: Has nature already found solutions to the problem of energy?

In addition, we honoured some of our skilful teachers, who received the Distinguished Teaching Award, and this year’s winner of the University’s Innovation Prize ‘Hjärnäpplet’.

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MIRAI – towards a sustainable future together

This week, MIRAI held its third and final MIRAI seminar at Uppsala University and Stockholm University, on the theme “Moving together towards a sustainable future”. Minister for Higher Education and Research Matilda Ernkrans spoke at MIRAI’s welcome reception and nearly 200 participants were present in Uppsala earlier in the week.

We listened to speeches by Johan Kuylenstierna from the Swedish Climate Policy Council, superstar Professor Yoshiyuki Sankai, founder and CEO of Cyberdyne, and our own battery expert, Professor Kristina Edström. The day concluded at Norrlands nation, where we enjoyed a sustainable dinner (vegan/game), keyed fiddle music and a Lucia procession (!). The week continued with workshops at Stockholm University. There were a large number of participants from Uppsala University: myself (Eva), Professor Lars Lannfelt, Dr Kristin Franzon and Dr Sara Ekmark Lewén (Public Health and Caring Sciences), Specialist Physician Shinji Yamamoto (Surgical Sciences), Lisa Åkerlund (Engineering Sciences), Dr Malgorzata Blicharska and Professor Anna Rutgersson (Earth Sciences), Professor Kristina Edström and Dr Haidong Liu (Chemistry), Dr Petra Jönsson (Physics and Astronomy), Dr Hanne Fjelde (Peace and Conflict Research), Björn Ingemarsson, Cecilia Nilsson, Dr Göran Lindström, Hillevi Englund, Jenny Nordquist, Per Kjellin and Dr Malin Graffner Nordberg (UU Innovation), Dr Johan Eriksson (Art History), Professor Leif Kirsebom (Cell and Molecular Biology/Art History) and Dr Ryoyo Ikebuchi and Professor Ulf Landegren (Immunology, Genetics and Pathology).

MIRAI (www.mirai.nu) is a Swedish–Japanese project that has been running since 2017 and focuses on early career researchers under the themes of Ageing, Material Science, Sustainability and Innovation. A total of 15 universities have participated, seven from Sweden and eight from Japan. Would you like to learn more about the forthcoming MIRAI 2.0? If so, you can contact Ulrica Ouline at the Division for Internationalisation, ulrica.ouline@uadm.uu.se

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Guest blogger Gudmund Hernes: Ignorance is dangerous

Gudmund Hernes. Photo. Mikael Wallerstedt

Public debate is increasingly a debate about research. Scientific findings rapidly hit the newspaper headlines and television news and spread – sometimes in distorted form – via social media. This is because research concerns all aspects of the life of society: plastic in the oceans, access to new vaccines, new batteries for electric vehicles, or the effect of measures to promote the integration of immigrants.
Research findings and their use are often controversial, and rapidly become the subject of political debate. How extensive is pollution from microplastics? Should new prohibitions or fees be introduced? Should the expansion of wind power be limited? Should a vaccine be made obligatory?
To a steadily increasing extent and in constantly new ways, research shapes people’s everyday lives, whether this concerns the content of education policy, GPS navigation, or the fact that more and more people have a supercomputer in their pocket: their mobile phone, which is a telephone exchange, a bank branch office, a travel agent, a juke box, a radio, a cinema, a health centre, a diary, a library – all rolled into one. It can be used to warn citizens in the event of an emergency, to establish a social and political forum for citizens – or to monitor them. Modern societies cannot function without the mobile phone, and research keeps adding new functions.

Research does not just affect the things people use – it also shapes their thinking. Concepts that only occurred in specialist journals ten years ago have now passed into everyday usage – words like ‘nanotechnology’, ‘laparoscopic surgery’, ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ and ‘gene therapy’. Everyday language is also full of concepts from previous generations’ research – from ‘acceleration’ and ‘cold front’ to ‘blood pressure’ and ‘GDP’. Such concepts moreover have spread globally.
In a word: research and research findings have become the most powerful socially transformative force. This is reflected not only in improvements in the countless conveniences of everyday life and in language, but also in the great global epochal changes – the word ‘anthropocene’ is used for the age in which we now find ourselves, where human beings’ own activities are changing the Earth’s geology and ecosystems, including the climate.

When both the physical and the social world are increasingly transformed by human beings themselves, a lack of knowledge becomes a growing risk. How are we to respond to the next outbreak of Ebola? How quickly will the sea level rise, and what will the consequences be for human settlement, food production, the water supply and migration? What has Sweden learned from the forest fires in summer 2018 to prepare the country for the next time? How will self-driving cars change patterns of production and labour markets? Can technological measures be used to counter the danger to democracy presented by ‘fake news’? How is the next financial crisis to be overcome? What happens when bees die?
When such questions arise, it is worth remembering that it was many years of basic research on retroviruses that made it possible to quickly identify HIV at an early stage of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
Without knowledge, infrastructure and research preparedness, society will be more vulnerable in the face of new challenges and unforeseen developments: countermeasures will come too late. And they will be expensive – the price of not knowing is high.
At the same time, this underlines the fact that research policy must provide ample scope for the free quest for true knowledge that we call basic research – and which provides a preparedness to meet different, unknown futures. Sweden – and the world – is reminded of this every year when the Nobel prizes are awarded: it often takes time, a long time, from award to application. It took ten years from the discovery of nitroglycerine by Professor Ascanio Sobrero to the invention and patenting of dynamite by Alfred Nobel.

Paradoxically, the growth of knowledge can create a lack of knowledge. The use of knowledge that research gave us in earlier times can weaken our ability to act today. The simplest example is antibiotic resistance. This is not due to our knowledge about antibiotics having become invalid. But the use of this knowledge, which was gained nearly 100 years ago, has so changed human beings’ bacterial surroundings that medicines are losing their efficacy. Consequently, our knowledge is inadequate. And this ignorance entails a great new danger.
The situation is similar in many areas. For example, the ubiquity of combustion engines has made transport and communications by land, sea and air easier – but has now become a major source of global warming. This is an unintended – and undesired – consequence. And this development has to be turned around to save the environment we live in.
Research can therefore be made obsolete by its own success. The knowledge community is self-transforming in the sense that the use of knowledge generates problems that can only be solved by new research and new knowledge. This is evident in the economy as well, where technological innovations threaten to exclude a growing part of the adult population from the labour market and a meaningful life. Because the labour market is not something that is – it is something that, through research, innovations and other factors, is constantly changing and becoming something else.

In a society in which the growth of knowledge makes current knowledge obsolete and undermines the competence people possess through everything from robotisation to artificial intelligence, education must provide skills that last for life: concepts that endure, codes for interpretation and abilities for action. Without this, the explosion of knowledge leads to the very opposite of mastery: confusion, anxiety and perplexity.
When knowledge and research play a larger role in people’s lives, public debate also requires an enlightened public sphere. The sharing of knowledge and participation in the critical use of knowledge has a democratising effect. This is an idea that goes back to the Age of Enlightenment but it has taken on renewed relevance because of the increased pressure from new, global communication networks, social media and ‘fake news’. These new circumstances demand a population capable of intellectual resistance and able to assess everything they can now read, see and hear to identify what is valid and tenable. Familiarity with scholarly standards for the open exchange of opinions and an ability to exercise critical judgement is one of the most important contributions of research to a free public sphere.

However, when knowledge plays a larger role in people’s lives, people also need to be able to feel confidence in research methods and findings, and confidence that researchers are driven by data, not by dogmas. This means that more weight must be given to the integrity of research – solid standards for scholarly procedures, publication and rational debate – in other words, to ensuring reliable investigations, trustworthy analyses, accurate reporting, transparency, peer review, factual debate, correction of errors and respect for all participants and people concerned. The primary prerequisite for public confidence in researchers is that researchers have confidence in one another. And when research breaks the boundaries of the possible, this must be accompanied by a humanistic tradition and ethics that set limits for what is permissible.

This must also underlie students’ introduction to research: the ability to wonder and ask new questions, the ability to formulate possible explanations for their findings, and the ability to investigate whether their explanations hold up through source evaluation, experiments or observation.
This kind of thinking is within everyone’s reach. And it is essential in a society that is becoming ever more research-driven, and where education and learning are changing from a phase in life to a way of life.

In the years ahead, we in the Nordic countries and Sweden will have to live more and more by our wits. The material foundation of welfare depends on our ability to gain and use knowledge with imagination and determination – on the ability to master the societal consequences of growing knowledge and to ensure sustainable development. This being so, Sweden needs to have research that is strong enough to take its place in the international research networks in which new knowledge is produced, reviewed and applied.

Ignorance is dangerous. Ignorance is expensive. Research and knowledge are among the most fantastic things human beings have learned to do together – ideas that are developed are transmitted across generations and transcend all borders by combining tradition and innovation. Research is necessary, not just to secure the prosperity of the nation but also to give citizens rich, exciting and meaningful lives.

Gudmund Hernes has been Chair of the University Board of Uppsala University since 1 May 2017. He is a Professor Emeritus of Sociology, former Minister of Education and Research in Norway (1990–1995) and member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

*From time to time the Vice-Chancellor’s Blog publishes posts by other contributors. Please address any questions about the contents to the guest blogger.

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The week began in Helsinki

On Monday the Management Council visited the University of Helsinki and Aalto University, two successful higher education institutions experiencing exciting development. We are already cooperating with both of them, but there is great potential to expand our range of partnerships. There are many projects on the research side, and in terms of education, we cooperate in the Nordic Council of Ministers’ Nordplus programme and in other ways.

In our dialogue with the management of each university, we focused on four questions: experiences from Finland’s autonomy reform, quality assurance and enhancement systems, strategies for internationalisation and attitudes to ranking systems. The University of Helsinki has a similar organisation to ours – a full-scale research university with a long history – whereas Aalto is the result of a merger between three higher education institutions just under ten years ago: Helsinki University of Technology, Helsinki School of Economics and the University of Art & Design Helsinki. Successful development has followed and they are now attracting great international interest and are seen as a lively challenger to more established universities of technology. Aalto Design Factory Network is one impressive initiative, which offers students challenge-driven education at companies around the world.

Discussion with colleagues at University of Helsinki

Finland implemented an autonomy reform a few years ago and it was interesting to hear about their experience. Both universities thought the reform had led to greater freedom to act and more scope to take new and necessary initiatives. The right to own property and companies, to borrow and to prioritise more freely has opened many new paths, though the financial responsibility has naturally also increased. Aalto was established in conjunction with the reform, on the initiative of the three institutions, and became one of two foundation universities. They saw the potential to create something new when the reform was discussed and took the opportunity.

Aalto University has experienced dynamic development since the merger of the three higher education institutions nearly ten years ago

We noted that the internal discussion on quality asurance and enhancement systems, ranking and internationalisation strategies at our different institutions follows similar lines. The day provided input for our continued discussion in the ongoing work on our mission, goals and strategies document in Uppsala. In conclusion, we see much to learn from Finland and that there is definitely every reason to consider possibilities of further developing cooperation with our neighbours to the east.

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University, as ever, at the heart of developments

Last week, higher education institutions, funding bodies and many other organisations submitted thier input to the government’s research policy from 2021 onwards (read our input here). Many interests are involved and a wide range of proposals are presented, everyone emphasises the issues that are most important to them, but there is broad agreement: investing in research and innovation is investing in Sweden’s future and a prerequisite for managing societal challenges. In addition, many emphasised the need for increased funding for the prerequisite for research – research infrastructure. Several major funding bodies highlight this in a joint submission, as does the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions on behalf of the country’s HEIs.

This past week was intensive, as always, with a diary full of meetings. On Tuesday, for example, there was a meeting of university leaders from the universities in Lärosäten Öst (Uppsala, Örebro, Mälardalen, SLU, Dalarna and Gävle). One result of our cooperation is that we are now starting joint leadership and management training. Then on Wednesday, the Vice-Chancellor took part in a panel discussion on academic freedom and collaboration with China, a topical and important subject that calls for continued discussion.

So much is happening at our University, it is impossible to talk about even a fraction of all the activities and involvements that fill every day. There is much to be proud of. This week, the University was named Erasmus+ Actor of the Year, the Uppsala Union of Engineering and Science Students organised the careers fair Utnarm, which this year is environmentally certified, and today the highly topical issue of the state of democracy in our society was discussed by researchers from various fields at a conference organised as part of the celebration by the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag) of the breakthrough of democracy 100 years ago. That’s not so long ago and it’s important that we don’t take democracy for granted, it embodies important values that need to be defended and upheld every day.

Something else that happened this week that is worth noting is that 11,000 researchers united behind an article in the scholarly journal BioScience calling on decision-makers to act more resolutely in the climate issue. This attracted international attention, for example in The Guardian. Research is absolutely essential to the development of society, but political courage is also required to go beyond fine-sounding words and take the decisions that really lead to change.

Otherwise, this is a time of year when the darkness of November falls over the city, which makes it cheering to be able to enjoy Uppsala Light Festival, which this year features the University Library, Carolina Rediviva, as its main attraction. The light installation “Speak truth to power” is intended to illuminate freedom of speech, democracy and the open society.

Come and see it!

The library lit up for freedom of expression, democracy and the open society.
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