Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: April 2020

Valborg without crowding

We appeal to you all to be responsible and refrain from all types of traditional Valborg celebrations this year. Instead, let’s keep our distance and look after one another by celebrating apart and absolutely not risk adding to crowds and public gatherings by going out. Help us spread the word – use this film clip, for example.

At this time of year at the University, we’re usually busy preparing to celebrate Valborg (Walpurgis Eve). Just around the corner, we would have the Spring Conferment Ceremony in the Grand Auditorium, with all our new PhDs and jubilee doctors decked out in formal attire. This year, spring is different. The sun, warmth and green leaves are here as usual, but to slow the spread of infection we need to take joint responsibility for continuing to keep our distance and not gathering in large groups. We’re caring a little more about one another and finding alternative ways to welcome the spring.

While you’re at it, take the chance to learn more about the history of Valborg celebrations in Uppsala by watching some newly recorded films which will be published on www.uu.se next week. Your cicerone is the University’s very own guide, the always-in-demand Mikael Norrby.

Next year we will meet again in Uppsala to celebrate Valborg in the traditional style and a conferment ceremony with cannon salute!

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Changeover at the University Board

Gudmund Hernes

Yesterday’s meeting of the University Board contained not only, as always, discussions on a number of important issues for the future of the University but also a farewell to several members whose term of office ends on 30 April – including the departing chair, Gudmund Hernes, who has guided the work of the board with a steady hand since 2017. Sincere and heartfelt thanks to them!

Anne Ramberg. Foto Micke Lundström

Today, at the eleventh hour, the government appointed the eight external members who will serve on the University Board for a three-year period starting on 1 May. We are delighted to welcome our new chair Anne Ramberg and the other new members. They will bring valuable new experience to the board. We look forward with confidence and anticipation to working with them. A partial renewal of the University Board means something of a fresh start and opens the way for innovation, while the remaining members have a very important role in guaranteeing continuity.

The new members of the University Board are:
Anne Ramberg, member and former Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Stockholm, chair
Svante Pääbo, Professor, Max Planck Institute, Leipzig
Linus Tunström, Director, Stockholm
Johan Söderström, Director, ABB, Västerås

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Virtual meetings with politicians and heads of department

Zoom meeting with politicians

Friday began with a specially convened meeting with local, regional and national-level Uppsala politicians. At the previous meeting, a wish was expressed to meet more often, and we were happy to agree to this. It’s good to have the opportunity to report the latest news from the University, whether successes or challenges, and the politicians asked good and relevant questions. They are keen to be involved and willing to lend their support where necessary. For example, we pointed out the importance of a long-term approach to research funding. Initiatives to support coronavirus-related research are extremely timely and welcome, but it’s important not to forget the need for ongoing broad investments to manage future challenges.

In more than one area, more frequent meetings are one obvious consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. It is essential to listen to one another in order to quickly identify appropriate measures. Currently, we have a closer dialogue with the Ministry of Education and Research and the Minister, which is positive and productive. To give one example, medical students’ insurance did not cover COVID-19 but this was quickly remedied, and our impression is that there is a receptiveness to our needs. Those of us in the University Management feel a similar need to put our ear to the ground and listen to what’s going on within our University.

The Vice-Chancellor and Head of Division Karin Apelgren in the Zoom studio

We therefore ended the day with an informal Zoom meeting with heads of department. We have realised that virtual meetings are a model that has probably come to stay and will remain more common than previously. More people can participate and the meetings can be kept short and efficient. Our topic today was international students, an area where there are many questions. It’s good to be made aware of questions, even if we can’t answer them all, and it’s useful to get an up-to-date picture of the situation in the academic departments. We were able to give a reassuring answer on one point. The University stands on a stable financial foundation. Together, we will certainly be able later to deal with any extra costs that may arise this year.

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Spring Budget Bill marked by coronavirus

The Spring Budget Bill presented by the Swedish government today proposes an increase of SEK 513 million in direct government funding for universities and other higher education institutions. There is no decision yet on how this money will be divided between HEIs, but this will be announced in the near future. The funding is primarily intended for temporary places on summer courses and foundation (access) years, but will also include permanent places.
The government also proposes to allocate approximately SEK 100 million to a special research initiative linked to the COVID-19 virus. These funds will be distributed by the Swedish Research Council. This is another important investment in which we have good prospects of sharing. Our University has several outstanding research teams in this area.

We have indicated that we will be happy to welcome new students as early as this summer, so we look forward to news about the allocation of places. Opening up future opportunities for more people is a responsibility we are happy to take on at this time of uncertainty in the labour market. For many people, an extra opportunity for education and training can be the way to a new direction in working life.

At this time when travel and physical meetings are impossible and the focus is on the near at hand, it is important still to look beyond the coronavirus and its consequences and remember our partners in other cities and countries. Our exchanges and collaborations are important for the University’s development and need to continue. As far as possible, we will continue with what we are doing, while drawing on our new experiences to find creative and innovative ways to work in the future.

For my part, this is a week full of virtual meetings. Yesterday we ‘met’ the management of Lund University and discussed common issues. This morning, a staff meeting at Campus Gotland. Tomorrow the EUA holds its General Assembly, involving hundreds of participants, and on Friday it will be time for the General Assembly of the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions. That day starts with breakfast with politicians and ends with coffee with the University’s heads of department – in all cases via Zoom or a similar tool.

This week, the regional crisis collaboration group also met. Material collected by the University is benefitting the health services, and for the most part, things are ticking along in our new ‘abnormal normality’. However, we noted that we need to help one another stick to the restrictions that are in effect and not let up when it begins to feel like an everyday situation. When we get to the other side of all this, we will evaluate and learn lessons from what we have done.

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Easter and spring – despite it all

While the world finds itself in a kind of state of emergency, time continues on its way. Easter is approaching and signs of spring are increasingly obvious. Now, with a few days’ holiday coming up, it’s important to keep up the good habits we have learned: stay at home if you have any symptoms, wash your hands, keep your distance. But still, let’s try to enjoy the light, the fresh greenery and the blackbird’s song as well.

Promotionen – genrebilder från aulan Foto. Mikael Wallerstedt

The adaptation of our education and research has gone better than expected. Other activities at the University are also affected. We are postponing the spring conferment ceremony until November, when it will replace the inauguration of professors, while we will celebrate the University’s new professors doubly in 2021. The planning of virtual Valborg activities is in full swing, and the cancellation of Almedalen Week is changing many people’s plans, particularly at Campus Gotland. There is also positive news. Speedy and generous funding from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation will enable SciLifeLab to take a comprehensive approach and coordinate research on every conceivable aspect of the ongoing pandemic.

Alongside the impact on our work, the coronavirus looms larger in our lives. Many know someone who is ill or has been hit hard economically. For some, life will never be the same again. The consequences for society as a whole are difficult to foresee. We who work at Uppsala University come from all over the world and probably react in rather different ways, depending on our previous experiences and the social systems we are accustomed to. All of us are following national and international developments, via various news sources. There is a lively debate about which measures are effective and which are not. The disparities between the responses of different countries cause uncertainty and frustration. Let us tackle this together and help one another whenever help is needed. Here you will find corona-related information.

We wish you all a good Easter break.

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Zoom meeting with heads of department and protective equipment on the way

Material being packed at EBC

Yesterday afternoon a large batch of protective equipment went from Uppsala University to Uppsala University Hospital. Many departments and research teams have been keen to contribute and now the material has gone where it is needed most right now. More deliveries are expected next week. We are proud of the responsibility and willingness to help everyone at the University has shown.

On Thursday and Friday it was time for the spring overnight conference with heads of department, which was held remotely this year via Zoom. Several important issues were on the agenda and working in groups in virtual group rooms proved more successful than expected, though I am sure we all missed the networking that takes place between sessions when we meet in real life.

We started on Thursday with a productive session on dilemmas, led by Professor of Practical Philosophy Folke Tersman. Heads of department bear the ultimate responsibility for their department’s activities and not infrequently, this means they end up in situations that are far from easy to resolve. In his presentation, Professor Tersman emphasised the importance of preparation when confronting a difficult decision and gave some practical advice.

  • Look into the legal aspects of the matter, as well as ethical guidelines and fundamental values
  • Identify which values and principles are in conflict
  • Try to be creative about possible solutions
  • Take time to listen to colleagues, but make your own decision and don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

Professor Tersman suggested giving heads of department a chance to practice arguing for and against in situations in which values come into conflict with one another, and practice in standing up for their own assessment. It was an interesting session and valuable to bear in mind during the rest of the day, which focused on our ongoing projects on the role of head of department, careers, teaching and learning qualifications, and appointments. It was important that we were able to bring the breadth of our University to bear on these closely associated issues and had an opportunity to exchange ideas. We believe this will make for a better outcome.

The most common form of meeting

Managing to recruit and retain the best staff is crucial for continued success and at the end of the year we will have new appointment regulations that will underpin these efforts. Project manager Ann Fust presented the work to date and highlighted some of the key issues they are wrestling with. One such issue is how the University should best deal with its many research appointments, which offer little security and few career opportunities. There will be more opportunities to discuss the contents of the proposed new appointment regulations, which will be presented to the University Board in June before the final report in the summer.

Yesterday’s programme began with an overview of University-wide issues, presented by the University Management. The annual report provides us with a welcome stable foundation for the operational planning process, which recently began, and where we aim to stick to the timetable and provide a stable budgetary framework for the University’s operations. The University’s positive development allows us to press steadily onward, despite the extremely uncertain social situation caused by COVID-19. We had a chance to express our sincere thanks to everyone who has worked hard to keep things going, despite the transition to virtual activities, and we took up some of the questions that have come from different parts of the University. With regard to distance education, we were able to reassure everyone that we will not be deciding on an abrupt return to on-campus instruction. That transition, when it becomes possible, must proceed in an orderly manner, at the time that is most appropriate for the particular course or programme.

Five in the ‘studio’, nearly 50 participants

The next session dealt with the implementation of the University’s Mission, Goals and Strategies, where the disciplinary domains will receive instructions from the Vice-Chancellor to develop relevant indicators for follow-up together with the faculties and departments. These indicators are intended to support implementation, not to serve as a basis for allocating resources. Plenty of time is being allowed – proposals are to be delivered to the Vice-Chancellor in May 2021. It is important that the indicators have broad acceptance after thorough discussion at local level.

We went on to have a good look at the progress on the new premises plan. The proposal will contain some common principles for rent and vacancies and a model consisting of three-year plans based on more long-term plans drawn up by the disciplinary domain boards. The proposal will soon be referred for comments by 15 September.

Heads of department viewed from the Vice-Chancellor’s home office

The final item in this, our first marathon Zoom meeting of heads of department, was led by Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Good Research Practice Stefan Eriksson. He talked about the factors that best support a creative and successful research environment, based on studies on the subject. Supportive leadership, a cooperative climate and good infrastructure are examples of favourable factors, while pressure and competition can have negatve effects. Discussion sessions in smaller groups in separate Zoom breakout rooms helped to identify further interesting aspects of the issue, such as the link between staff turnover and research environment, and the role of introductory programmes.

Our thanks to everyone for your commitment and involvement, which reinforce our joint efforts for the future of Uppsala University!

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