Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: March 2020

Keep going, stay strong

Following the rapid and radical change that the transition to distance education required, we are beginning to discern the contours of a new normality. Many of us are working remotely, fewer are on campus. We’re keeping our distance and washing our hands. As more people fall ill, the government may impose more restrictions, and these are likely to affect our activities. We need to be prepared for more widespread sickness absence.

The most important thing now is staying power. This situation will continue for some time. Yesterday we took a decision to extend the measures we have previously announced until 15 May. The decision also contained two new measures.

From now on, our campus premises will be open to anyone who has a card and code, but not to the public. Also, the previous decision on a maximum of 100 people for conferences and meetings at the University no longer applies; instead, meetings should primarily be held remotely. At any remaining physical meetings, social distancing will apply, i.e., fewer participants in larger rooms. And it must always be possible to participate remotely.

While all this is going on, planning is already under way for next year. Yesterday morning we had an extended Management Council meeting (just under half the people in the room, the others via Zoom) to begin the process of drafting an operational plan for 2021. As far as possible, we are aiming to stick to the existing conditions for planning and established principles. We believe this is best for the University, particularly in the present situation.

Several members of the Faculty of Medicine will be increasing their engagement in health and medical care; in this emergency situation, research has to take a back seat. We are proud of their great sense of responsibility and their willingness to help. Those of you who are contributing knowledge in various public connections are also doing important work. You are needed alongside the public authorities when anxiety is growing and people are trying to understand what is happening.

We call on you all at this time to keep going and stay strong. Even if the situation is becoming normal in some sense, it’s important not to relax. The world and Sweden are in an exceptional situation and our ability to continue to keep our distance and reduce the spread of infection is our joint responsibility. Help one another and don’t forget to get in touch with people who have no family and friends nearby.

Yesterday afternoon, the government issued a press release proposing a number of measures in the area of education. Already last week, Uppsala University signalled that we can admit more people to summer courses, expand certain programmes, the foundation year and the number of places in distance education. As a university, we will naturally help and contribute in every way we can.

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Coronavirus: how can we help?

A week or so ago, nobody knew the University would manage in just 24 hours to reorganise its activities and make changes that would normally take months or years. A quantum leap into the future. Of course, distance education is nothing new, but it was vital that preparations had been made for a possible announcement of immediate reorganisation. Suddenly we are in the midst of digital reality, no doubt a bit dazed and weary after working so hard – but you did it and everything is working far better than expected. We have not cancelled everything and shut up shop: we have reorganised our teaching at record speed and are now a digitalised university for 46,000 students. You who have achieved this are all heroes. Thanks also to all the students who are helping one another and supporting our efforts to spread information.

Keep up the good and creative work. It is a matter of keeping going by our combined efforts. The important thing now is to continue to follow the recommendations: stay at home if you feel at all under the weather, keep your distance to one another when you meet and wash your hands. In these respects we must all, without exception, set a good example. If you are among those at risk, you should try to work from home, while the rest of us can do so if and when it is possible and appropriate given our duties. We will need staying power – this situation can be expected to last for a good while to come.

Many people at the University are signalling that they want to contribute in the fight against the coronavirus. This is pleasing. It goes without saying that we must do what we can to help. Our University has protective equipment, analytical laboratories, pharmaceuticals and expertise in medicine and many other areas. There are many creative ideas and they are more than welcome. Having said that, it is important that the help is well coordinated so that it is channelled to where it is needed most. Groups of students have also offered their assistance, for example by helping school pupils to achieve learning outcomes in subjects such as languages and mathematics.

On Friday those of us in the University’s management team met politicians from the Uppsala region and county governor Göran Enander. Everyone agreed that we have to take a coordinated approach to the needs. The best way to contact us at the University is via the registrar at registrator@uu.se. In addition to material and medical expertise, the knowledge of social scientists is in demand to address the complex economic consequences for society. This weekend, we received welcome news from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation that they are allocating SEK 50 million for increased analysis of coronavirus tests at SciLifeLab, Uppsala University and Karolinska Institutet to assist the health services in scaling up testing. Where we will stand a week from now we do not know; we need to be prepared to adapt to further announcements from the Public Health Agency of Sweden and the government.

On Friday we also took the sad but necessary decision, in coordination with our partners, to cancel our Walpurgis Eve (Valborg) activities. Helping to organise a day that usually attracts 150,000 people in Uppsala is neither responsible nor legal in the current situation. However, we will be announcing a plan for digital celebrations for the University. Valborg remains in the calendar.

Even if it may feel far off, there will be an afterwards, a post-corona time when we will get back to normal. There are likely to be some lasting changes in our activities and in society in general. The coronavirus will have hit some parts of society harder than others and some seriously affected groups in the labour market may need to reskill. There will be a need for new research in various areas to learn from what we have been through and reduce the risk of a future pandemic. We will probably learn to see new advantages in digital ways of working and perhaps, with increased risk awareness, we will re-evaluate a good many aspects of working life and life in general.

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Corona: listen to the experts

The coronavirus, which causes COVID-19 disease, has become an issue for our entire society this week, and activities to slow down the spread of infection have increased, both in Sweden and at Uppsala University. Naturally, many people are worried about what may happen. Having said that, it is important to remember that the vast majority of those infected experience relatively mild symptoms.

The national strategy is changing. The assessment is that we are now seeing community transmission in Sweden. The virus will spread widely and measures are now aimed at delaying the course of events. A more gradual process will reduce the strain on health services and increase the probability that those who become seriously ill and groups that are at particular risk can receive help. As someone put it: the burden of the disease will be borne by older people and people with underlying conditions, while the burden of the measures will be borne by those who are younger and healthier. Efforts to limit the spread of infection are primarily a matter of solidarity.

Our crisis management organisation was activated several weeks ago. We are closely monitoring the statements made by infection control doctors and the Public Health Agency of Sweden. We are working actively to take stock of the situation and prepare the University to conduct its activities as normally as possible even at a time when many people are away from their studies or work, and when we are limiting unnecessary close contact between people in various ways.

The single most important message right now is to stay home if you are sick or feel early symptoms of a respiratory infection. You will find continuously updated internal communications and recommendations in the Staff Portal. Keep up to date!

We would like to address sincere thanks to everyone involved in preventive measures, communications and in finding solutions to all the challenges that are now arising in our everyday activities. You are all doing a fantastic job! The situation varies from department to department, and from division to division, and the adaptations required will therefore vary. There are many good local initiatives and creative ideas – do share them with one another!We are getting in touch with our exchange students around the world and with those who are here and are worried about not being able to return home. We are also contacting students who were planning to come here in the autumn and keeping them up to date. Many people are helping to answer the many questions coming up at departments and among our students. The students’ unions and student nations are providing great help in spreading recommendations to students. The IT Division is also hard at work taking stock of and ensuring our capacity for virtual meetings and teaching via Zoom.

We would also like to thank all the researchers who are now giving so generously of their time in the media. It is vital to contribute fact-based knowledge in a situation where many people are worried. You are more important than ever! The information we ourselves are publishing online follows the recommendations of the Swedish authorities and ultimately of the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Those of us in the university management team are monitoring developments closely. The situation is changing from week to week and day to day, and new assessments may lead to new decisions. Outbreaks of infectious diseases cause concern and here too we must all help to remind one another to see things clearly and not lose a sense of proportion. Show consideration and be kind to one another. Act if anyone is accused or is treated badly. Give a little extra thought to our international students and colleagues, who are far from home and are bound to feel extra concern for that reason.

Eva Åkesson, Vice-Chancellor
Anders Malmberg, Deputy Vice-Chancellor
Caroline Sjöberg, University Director
Stellan Sandler, Vice-Rector, Medicine and Pharmacy
Torsten Svensson, Vice-Rector, Humanities and Social Sciences
Johan Tysk, Vice-Rector, Science and Technology

Information page for employees in the Staff Portal in Swedish and English, regularly updated.

Information page for students in English, regularly updated.

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Research and freedom draw crowds

Two very well-attended events were held at the University yesterday. We were happy to welcome Alumnus of the Year Emma Frans, who gave an inspiring lecture in the evening in the University Main Building. She called on us to take greater responsibility for fighting disinformation and fake news, a responsibility I am sure we all feel but perhaps do not always find time to exercise in our everyday lives. When false information spreads about health risks, for example, or about science more generally, we end up with decision-makers and the general public alike acting on an uncertain or, in the worst case, a completely wrong basis. When that happens, society has embarked on a dangerous course.

Congratulations to the Alumnus of the Year

Emma Frans gave many telling examples of how false information spreads via social channels in particular, and she pointed out how serious it is that this type of information spreads more widely and more quickly than more factual articles or rebuttals. Simple, confident messages are preferred to more nuanced and complex ones. A media landscape like this favours colourful personalities rather than objective experts. However, a society in which the general public has more confidence in influencers than in politics, official information and free media – the very foundations of our democracy – needs more people in the public sphere with thorough knowledge and a talent for communication. And these are precisely Emma Frans’s qualifications. We hope to keep in touch with our latest Alumnus of the Year and will of course bear in mind the advice she gave: to support researchers who champion science in social media even in the face of hostility.

The subject of confidence in science also tied in with the Vice-Chancellor’s seminar that attracted record numbers to a discussion on the freedom of speech in academia earlier in the afternoon. There was a lively discussion, following excellent introductory remarks by Folke Tersman, Sten Widmalm, Maria Eriksson Baaz, Frida Gommel and Mikael Ruotsi. We concluded that we in the academic community must defend the space for difficult discussions on controversial subjects and that the best way for us to do this is by collegial action to bolster our collective self-confidence and by talking more about dilemmas and perceived threats in our everyday experience. It is also appropriate to ask where the most serious threat comes from and to devote energy to that. In this connection, we would like to recall that the freedom of education has a weak legal basis in Sweden today. We have pointed this out more than once, most recently in our budget input to the government, and here we can all join forces to demand change.

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