Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: January 2020

Time for Winter Conferment Ceremony

Early this morning, cannon salutes and Cathedral bells resounded across Uppsala. Today we have celebrated 84 new doctoral graduates, 17 honorary doctors and 13 prizewinners at our University in the traditional grand ceremony. Congratulations!

The speech at this year’s Conferment Ceremony was given by the degree conferrer of the Faculty of Science and Technology, Professor Roland Roberts, who spoke on the subject of science and humankind. Read more about the ceremony and traditions here.

After the ceremony in the Grand Auditorium, celebrations continue at the faculties’ receptions, followed in the evening by a banquet at Uppsala Castle.

The Vice-Chancellor’s speech at the ceremony.

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Scholarships from the University’s long history

Just before Christmas I signed a decision to distribute scholarships for a total of SEK 19 million, which was no doubt a welcome Christmas present for the many students – and some researchers – who received the news. Of all the decisions I take as Vice-Chancellor, this is one of those that give me most pleasure. Tomorrow, 30 January, the next application round opens, with a deadline for applications of 19 February. Here you find more information about this springs´ scholarships.

Scholarships are distributed to some 1,100 individuals each year at Uppsala University, from the roughly 400 different scholarship foundations created by donations to the University. Some of them were established as far back as the 17th century to give more people a chance to study at university. There are still students today who do not have to take out student loans because they receive a scholarship covering several years of studies. The large number of scholarship funds represent an extraordinary possibility to provide financial support to those who choose to study specifically at Uppsala University. As Vice-Chancellor, I take decisions on approximately half the scholarships, while the decisions in the other cases are taken by faculties and student associations (nations).

Every year three or four thousand people apply for an average of ten scholarships each, so the total number of applications received can be as high as around 35,000. Despite this, some scholarships have few applicants. Some foundations give precedence to relatives, others have more general requirements, such as diligence, talent or need. Sometimes a geographical connection is required or membership of a particular student nation. However, if no applicant meets the criteria for precedence, the scholarship can usually be awarded to some other applicant, so it can be worth applying even if you don’t meet all the criteria. About half the scholarships are for undergraduate and Master’s students, and range from SEK 5,000 to SEK 120,000 per year. The other half go to researchers and doctoral students, who can apply for grants for research projects or travel.

Most of the scholarships are managed by Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds. In total, they manage no less than 604 different foundations associated with the University. The groundwork was laid by donations to the University from the 1620s onwards. The purpose of the donations was generally to support a specific area of research or other activities at the University, or to encourage individuals to study at Uppsala University. The assets have been well looked after for many generations and benefit both education and research. I’m sure it would please the donors to know that their gifts continue to lead to new discoveries today.

In addition, they create opportunities in other areas as well. For example, they enable us to organise ceremonies and festivities in ways that would be impossible without them. Several prizes awarded by the University come from foundations, including the Geijer Prize, the Oscar Prize, the Gösta Naeslund Prize and many others. Other areas in which the foundations contribute and that also benefit the city and the community are the University’s cultural heritage, gardens and musical activities.

But not all foundations are old. Uppsala University has many friends and has received many donations of a later date. Research inspires interest and many people realise that new knowledge is always needed, not least to tackle major challenges facing society. The University has an office that can be contacted about such matters. You can read about some examples of deserving causes that need support here.

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SUHF dialogue seminar on research bill input, 2030 Agenda and EU policy

On Friday, I (Eva) took part in a dialogue seminar on topical issues organised by the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF). The agenda included an update and analysis of HEI input to the government’s research bill, research infrastructure, the 2030 Agenda and European research policy.

According to the analysis presented by Professor Lars Geschwind of KTH Royal Institute of Technology, HEI input to the research bill reveals a clear consensus on certain issues: the research-education link, research infrastructure and health and life sciences were three major themes that recurred in the input from HEIs. It was pleasing to see that more HEIS raised the importance of autonomy and self-determination than in the past. The need to eliminate barriers hindering HEIs’ development has increased further in the context of international competition. We are also witnessing a tougher environment for academics, who are subjected to threats in Sweden and even more so in other countries. There is every reason to continue to take a clear stand for autonomy and increased self-determination, both individually and together. We chose to make this issue the starting point of our input. However, there was less unanimity among those of who had submitted input on some other issues, including exposure to competition and incentives for collaboration.

Lively discussion on topical issues during the SUHF dialogue seminar

An in-depth discussion on research infrastructure came next. I was one of several participants to identify this as one of the key issues for the future in an opinion piece published by the newspaper UNT before Christmas. Funding is naturally a vital concern, with large amounts having been lost due to the weakening of the Swedish krona. The fact that research is an international activity is striklingly obvious in this context. Needless to say, increased costs make it more of a challenge to prioritise national research infrastructure, if there is actually any money to allocate. A heavy responsibility falls on the larger universities, like Uppsala, to cope with the situation. Of course it is also important for Sweden to work on increasing revenue at MAX IV and other facilities.

The afternoon began with a discussion on the 2030 Agenda from an HEI perspective. Olle Lundberg, Secretary General of Forte (the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare), and Johanna Adami, SUHF’s spokesperson for the 2030 Agenda, introduced the session. We noted that discussions on the issue of sustainability tend to focus on the environment and climate, and that the social dimension of sustainability also poses many serious challenges. If the sustainable development goals are to be met, there is an urgent need for evidence and long-term knowledge-building in areas such as widening inequalities, social exclusion and strained health and welfare systems as well. It is important that knowledge based on research is available and finds an audience so that the right measures are taken in society.

The day ended with a welcome discussion on European research policy, a highly topical issue. The EU is the third largest funder of Swedish research and an important platform for international cooperation, so it is important that we are involved in the shaping of policy. The Horizon Europe framework programme, which will come into effect in 2021, has been negotiated and contains much that is positive. The European Research Council (ERC), for example, will continue its mission to support frontier research, and the most important instruments for mobility and infrastructure will also continue. But there is also cause for concern. Financing is currently under debate and Finland, holding the Presidency, has proposed a reduction from 1.11 per cent of GDP to 1.07 per cent. Moreover, Brexit will leave a hole in the finances – though at the same time, it may open up new opportunities in our relations with the UK, which we must be sure to take (read the EUA briefing on Brexit).

In my invited comments, I emphasised the importance of a Swedish voice in Brussels and that the Swedish funding bodies’ coordination function EU-SAM needs to involve the HEIs in its work. Also, Swedish politicians are far too lukewarm in their interest, even though for every krona we invest in research we receive more money in return from the EU. They need to stand up for adequate funding for research and education, both in Sweden and in Brussels. The HEIs act through various university networks, but it would be an advantage to come together and pursue a common Swedish line. This would enable us to contribute things we are good at, such as synergies between research and education, where EU interest is growing, and to bring pressure to bear on important future issues. We should be involved and work for continued openness to the wider world, a long-term perspective in major partnerships and influence on the shaping of policy. The vision of increased cooperation between European universities has so far focused primarily on education, but research and innovation show up increasingly in the rhetoric. At the end of February I will be travelling to Brussels to discuss these issues with my colleagues in the Guild network. So we will come back to this issue during the spring.

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An exciting 2020 begins

A new semester is beginning. Welcome back! We hope that staff and students alike have had an enjoyable and well-deserved break over the Christmas and New Year holidays and feel inspired as they return at the start of a new year and a new decade. Eager new students have arrived to begin their studies at our University. We take this opportunity to remind anyone who can to offer a home to a student looking for somewhere to live at the beginning of the semester, so that more students can get off to a good start at Uppsala University. Do get in touch with the student housing agency, Studentboet!

We have kicked off this eventful year with a two-day conference with the Management Council, focusing on the future. This is a University-wide strategic group and an important interface between the University Management and academic operations, between the three disciplinary domains, between the administration and the core activities, and between students and the University.

Management Council members and deputies

The springboard for our work this year is the revised Mission, Goals and Strategies document that will now be put into practice by many people’s combined efforts. The document sets out goals for our work on developing and renewing our education and research, along with strategies for how to achieve the overall goal of contributing to a better world through education and research of the highest quality and relevance. We had a long, productive discussion on how to succeed in inspiring involvement throughout the University and how to check that we are achieving our goals. It isn’t easy to select the right indicators for follow-up. We want to know whether we are on the right track, without what we measure having unintended consequences or being used in the wrong way. The indicators must be broadly accepted, easy to measure and understand, and be specified at the right level in the University.

Having a Mission, Goals and Strategies document that brings together governance documents that were previously separate, and then incorporating as much as possible of what we want to do in our ordinary operational planning, provides a better foundation for the University’s development and renewal. Conflicting goals will be brought to the surface, which will facilitate necessary prioritisation.

At the conference we also took up all the important news from the disciplinary domains and the University Administration, it’s useful to hear about other people’s challenges, and to discover potential synergies. For example, an investigation into freestanding courses in the humanities and social sciences may naturally interest the rest of the University as well.

The students informed us that they have now formally established the organisation Uppsala University Student Unions, which will give the students a clearer voice (read more about this here). Cooperation between the student nations and students’ unions has also moved forwards, with several joint activities. All in all, this is very beneficial for student influence.

We also had interesting presentations on the ongoing work on Development Plan 2050 and the Buildings and Premises Plan, which between them will set us up well for the development of the University’s spatial and physical shape in Uppsala and Visby in the years to come.

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