Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: February 2020

Constructive deans day

The upcoming audit of the University’s quality assurance system, the library inquiry, the implementation of Mission, Goals and Strategies, the EUN application ENLIGHT, the Appointment Regulations and the art of making a world-class handover when you leave office. Yesterday’s deans day was busy, with many productive discussions on issues that all relate to our University’s future development.

The morning news broadcasts had been full of the latest on the coronavirus so we began with a reminder of the simple things we all can do to reduce the potential risk of infection. Wash your hands, cough in the crook of your arm and use Zoom for virtual meetings. It is also important to book travel via Lingmerths, as this makes it easy for the University to obtain a report on the whereabouts of our staff around the world. The assistant infectious disease control specialist in Region Uppsala, Helena Palmgren, joined us by videolink to update us on the situation.

Preparations are under way for the upcoming audit of our quality assurance systems by the Swedish Higher Education Authority. We have to describe how we work on assuring and enhancing the quality of our courses and programmes at all levels. The major task is the self-evaluation, which will involve many University employees. We have a quality assurance system that we believe in, but naturally we must be alert to opportunities for improvement. Also, it may be a challenge to describe the quality assurance procedures at our decentralised University in a way that outsiders find comprehensible and convincing. A snap survey of those present yielded very interesting indications of things that may need particular attention in the work ahead. Very useful!

The discussion on how best to identify indicators for following up the University’s Mission, Goals and Strategies gave a clear picture of the way ahead and will result in instructions from the Vice-Chancellor to the disciplinary domains. We agreed that the best approach is to start at a decentralised level when identifying how best to achieve our goals.

Björn Brorström

Inquiry chair Björn Brorström also gave us a preview of the upcoming report of the library inquiry, which is due in mid-March. We noted that our development-oriented library meets high standards and is appreciated throughout the University. The library has evolved over the years from a physical place to a resource that can be accessed from anywhere. However, there are challenges and important decisions on priorities lie ahead in this changing field of activities. The inquiry will provide a good basis for further development.

Left: Ann Fust

The afternoon session included an overview of the EUN application ENLIGHT, which was sent in the day before yesterday, and a status report from Ann Fust on her ongoing work on the Appointment Regulations. There are many thorny issues to tackle here, but we are hoping for clear-cut proposals. In this particular area, we as a university have a considerable degree of freedom. We need to venture beyond our old habits and leave no stone unturned to be an attractive employer. The report is due in June so there is time for further discussions on new ways of thinking.

We rounded off with an informal discussion on how to manage all the handovers coming up in this ‘super election year’ for the University without losing momentum in all we have going on. The short conclusion was: think of it as a relay race! We have to sprint all the way, pass on the baton securely and then let go.

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After another good year, we are looking to the future.

The Annual Report for 2019 was the main item on the agenda when the University Board met today. The report makes for satisfying reading. The University has a well-run economy and well-run operations. The turnover has increased by SEK 285 million, our educational activities are proceeding according to plan and we are doing well in the competition for direct government funding for research. The number of new doctoral students is now increasing after several years of decline and our agency capital is being steadily put to work. However, being satisfied does not mean we can relax; looking ahead, we see a number of crucial issues that we must urgently address in order to stay at the top. In the budget documentation we are submitting to the government, and which we discussed at the meeting today, we again take up some of the most important issues for the future.

Gudmund Hernes, chair of the University board prepares the meeting

We also had a thorough presentation of our upcoming European University Network application for the ENLIGHT project. The EU programme, known as the European Universities Initiative, aims to “bring together a new generation of creative Europeans able to cooperate across languages, borders and disciplines to address societal challenges and skills shortages faced in Europe.” Solutions to complicated societal challenges require international cooperation to access multiple points of view and benefit from other countries’ experiences. Our application focuses on collaboration with the municipality and several partner universities in Europe to create something completely new on the theme of sustainable cities. An exciting project, which, if the application is approved, will advance our capacity for international collaboration.

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Freedom, integrity, respect

An opinion piece by Göran Rosenberg in the radio news programme God morgon världen on 12 January (in Swedish) has sparked debate, including several comments in the Uppsala newspaper UNT (in Swedish). The discussion raises important issues of social control, academic freedom, freedom of expression and equal opportunities. Here are a few reflections on questions that have been directed at Uppsala University and its management in this connection.

• Does Uppsala University defend the freedom of education?

Yes of course, and this question is important. Higher education in Sweden lies wide open to political control. While the freedom of research is protected by law, there is a complete lack of equivalent protection for education. On the contrary, the Higher Education Ordinance defines the qualitative targets for higher education. Uppsala University has repeatedly criticised this unfortunate – and dangerous – state of affairs (for example, in our response to the government inquiry on governance and resources in 2019).

• Does everyone enjoy equal freedom of expression at Uppsala University?

Yes of course, and there can scarcely be any disagreement on this point. Personal attributes must not have any bearing on the freedom to participate in academic debate, and it goes without saying that factors such as gender, age, ethnicity or belief must have no influence on who is allowed to say what in a discussion.

• Are the University’s procedures for handling complaints about harassment or discrimination over-zealous and/or has the incident in question been mismanaged?

No, we don’t think so. Bearing in mind equal opportunities, those who are responsible for an educational programme or a place of work have an unquestionable obligation to respond to information or complaints about victimisation or similar behaviour.

Göran Rosenberg’s original broadcast criticises universities for being over-hasty to launch far-reaching investigations, which in turn “has created a growing market for private consultancies specialising in investigations of perceived violations”. He wonders about the possibility of “more informal methods of investigation to begin with. A face-to-face meeting or dialogue between complainant and respondent, for example.”

As we understand it, this was precisely what happened in the case at issue, and after a meeting the matter was closed without further action, which seems both correct and reasonable.

Having said that, it is not good that the teacher concerned apparently felt called into question during the discussion that took place.

The students reacted to something they perceived as offensive in the teaching situation, as they of course have a right to do. That in itself does not mean that the teacher acted incorrectly. The use of the particular word appears relevant in this connection. Especially in historical sciences, we must be able to deal with and discuss concepts and ways of thinking that are now perceived as degrading or offensive. Naturally, a different example could conceivably have been chosen, but that does not mean that the teacher behaved in a reprehensible way.

In this connection, we would like to recall the words of our new mission statement, Uppsala University: Mission, Goals and Strategies:

“A good learning and research environment is secure, stimulating and challenging for students, teachers and researchers. It is distinguished by openness, intense scholarly discussion, a culture of quality and renewal, equal opportunities, a good work environment and respectful relations between students and members of staff.”

We all share a responsibility to uphold and live up to this approach as far as possible in all circumstances.

Eva Åkesson, Vice-Chancellor
Anders Malmberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor
Torsten Svensson, Vice-Rector

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Transition to sustainability in progress

Yesterday I received a review of the University’s environmental management work in 2019. This is a type of report that all government authorities submit to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency each year, describing changes in certain environmental indicators. The figures were pleasing, particularly regarding travel, and it’s exciting to see that we are already moving in a positive direction even before the new environmental plan is completed. Goals and documents are important, but the real force for change is everyone acting together.

As one of the world’s most international universities, according to a new THE ranking, we will need to carry on travelling. However, we need to choose carefully when and how. It is positive to see that the number of domestic flights shorter than 500 km has decreased by 7 per cent in one year, and domestic flights over 500 km have decreased by no less than 24 per cent. Foreign flights under 500 km are 16 per cent down, while flights of more than 500 km have decreased by 2 per cent. The number of trips by train is up 11 per cent and the distance travelled by 30 per cent. This means we are travelling longer distances by train. As for bookings of travel-free meetings using videoconferencing facilities or Zoom, they have doubled in one year. Very good.

Vice-Chancellor and University Director practising Zoom

Practice makes perfect – we all need to put some time into learning techniques for digital meetings. Naturally this includes us senior university officers, so right now everyone who works closely with me is busy familiarising themselves with Zoom. You can find more information about travel-free meetings here.

The report mentions other positive trends as well. Environmental requirements are included in more and more procurement processes and we use 100 per cent renewable electricity. These positive trends are encouraging ahead of our revision of the environmental plan, the University’s Mission, Goals and Strategies document makes big promises in this area. Let us all pull together.

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Productive discussions when Management Council visited Campus Gotland

Yesterday the Management Council made its annual visit to Campus Gotland. After our ordinary meeting, at which we discussed the University’s annual report and budget documentation, which is being prepared, Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor Olle Jansson told us about strategic and current issues at Campus Gotland. The University is well on the way to meeting its goal of 1,500 on-campus students. Most new students are studying game design, public health/caring sciences, law, business administration and earth sciences and with several new degree programmes, this trend is set to continue.

Research developments are also very promising. Several major research initiatives are in progress in areas such as energy, cultural heritage and tourism. A completely new graduate school in sustainable development will start up in August, with 8–12 doctoral students.

Senior university officers lunched with representatives of the students’ union Rindi

It will tie in with local circumstances and will be very exciting to follow. It was also interesting to see a presentation of the internationalisation project that has been carried out in Visby. Needs have been identified and measures taken. The work and study environment has quickly become considerably more international – Campus Gotland is now Uppsala University’s most international campus.

Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor Olle Jansson talks about strategic work at Campus Gotland

Campus Gotland’s successful development since the merger shows the potential benefits when a larger higher education institution links up with a smaller institution in a way that they choose themselves and that benefits both parties. However, it’s important to remember that extra government development funds are essential, not just to begin with but permanently. And nothing will happen without strenuous efforts and deep commitment from both sides.

Vice-Rector Stellan Sandler talks about current issues in his disciplinary domain

After a meeting with staff at which we presented the latest news from the disciplinary domains in Uppsala, we had a chance to meet local politicians and representatives of Region Gotland. It was encouraging to hear the positive views about the importance of the University for regional growth. The cooperation has gone very well. The strategic partnership we have entered into has provided a very good platform and needless to say, it is pleasing that research, innovation and new student housing are included in the proposed strategic development plan for Gotland.

Regional Director Peter Lindvall talks about the region’s development
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Statement by Guild Presidents

Uppsala University is a member of The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities (LINK). This network, which was established in 2016, gives our University a more distinct presence in Brussels and better opportunities to influence European research and education policies.

In conjunction with the departure of the UK from the European Union, The Guild’s members have made a joint statement on the importance of continued cooperation in research and education in which we also express our support for a similar statement from 36 higher education and research stakeholders across Europe.

Research and education operate internationally across borders and we are very keen to continue our close cooperation with our colleagues in the UK.

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