Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: August 2020

International and local collaboration spur University’s development

This week, when we made our final preparations for the start of the semester and welcomed our new students with a digital talk show, has reminded us of the importance of collaboration with partners at all levels. Together with the region, the municipality and the students, we have tried to do everything we can to avoid any spread of infection now as the autumn begins. Everyone is doing their best and everyone has been determined to cooperate well. Now we will all play our part and encourage one another to comply with the restrictions. I sent out an appeal to our new students about this in an open letter this week.

My various meetings this week included a session on leadership development. It owed its origins to another kind of collaboration, arising out of last year’s visit to South Africa to take part in an interdisciplinary conference on the theme of sustainability under the aegis of the Swedish–South African project SASUF. That week, I was invited to the Central University of Technology, Free State, to talk about my own leadership journey. This occasion resulted in more far-reaching cooperation, leading this week to the first joint meeting via Zoom as part of their ambitious venture Next Generation Women Leadership Programme. It was planned to take place in Uppsala in May, in conjunction with SASUF’s final conference, but instead we now met online. The day turned out to be very instructive and interesting, and it was clear to me that even if we cannot meet physically, we can carry out our plans in other ways; mentoring meetings and job shadowing, for example, work perfectly well via Zoom.

The following day, together with other university leaders, I had a Zoom meeting with representatives of the adult education association Folkuniversitetet, a meeting that generated many exciting ideas about more far-reaching collaboration. Folkuniversitetet grew out of the universities’ associations of study circle leaders, which arranged study circles for the general public, and it enjoys active cooperation with universities and other higher education institutions to the present day. Two examples in Uppsala are the interdisciplinary lecture series Framtidsakademin – which involves the University’s Centre for Environment and Development Studies (CEMUS), Folkuniversitetet and Uppsala Public Library – and Korta vägen, a programme for newcomers in Sweden. We had a good discussion, which I hope will lead to new and deeper forms of collaboration. We share a common vision of liberal adult education, communicating research-based knowledge, and the activities conducted by Folkuniversitetet are very much in line with the University’s ambitions regarding widening participation and lifelong learning, for example. Together we can make one another better and I look forward to deeper collaboration in future.

In another development this week, the government announced that it was amending the Higher Education Ordinance to allow the Swedish Council for Higher Education to decide that the Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test, which was cancelled this spring, can be conducted for a limited number of people. It is positive that this possibility will be available next spring, but it is not realistic to believe that it can be done as early as this autumn. We still have a pandemic going on.

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A mixture of happiness and anxiety as new semester approaches

After a summer of staycations, we are nearing the start of a new semester. It is always a joy for the University management – and for the University in general – to welcome our students. However, while we are happy to be able to meet on campus again, it is more important than ever to follow all the recommendations and guidelines to reduce the risk of infection. Wash your hands, stay home if you are sick and – very important – get tested if you have any symptoms! It’s free and the health services in Uppsala and Visby have plenty of capacity.

We have all been in different places and met different people while on holiday and we know that the start of the semester tends to be accompanied by a spate of colds. Fortunately infection rates in Sweden have been low over the summer, but this could mislead us into becoming a little less careful about routines. There are plenty of examples to show that infection rates can quickly increase again locally, so now we all need to play our part to ensure that the positive situation continues. For the sake of our first-year students in particular, it is important that we avoid having to go back to doing everything remotely.

Putting up signs on campus in preparation for the new semester.

The University’s departments, faculties and support services have worked hard before and during the summer to prepare for the start of the semester. Many people have taken part in these solution-oriented preparations. Sincere thanks! We will all need to keep an eye on the way everything works in practice and take action where necessary.

Useful information, including ideas and advice, is available in the Staff Portal and for students at uu.se. Signs have been produced for display around campus. Receptions and other relatively large gatherings have been adapted to avoid the risk of infection. We learned a good deal in this area last semester, when fewer and fewer events were cancelled as time went on; instead, they moved to virtual formats. On 28 August it will be time for us to welcome our freshers, this year at a virtual event with a digital talk show in the Grand Auditorium.

Despite all our preparations, we are bound to run into challenges as the autumn proceeds. We particularly need to manage the anxiety that we know exists among students and staff alike. This is an issue the University management has felt to be a significant challenge in our communications. If we play down the situation some people may take excessive risks, while explicit warnings risk amplifying the fears of those who are already worried. We have discussed this at length and concluded that while there is good reason to take things seriously, we should all keep calm. Common sense and cooperation go a long way. Let us continue to take responsibility together.

We would also like to take this opportunity to remind everyone who is in a position to do so to offer a room to a student. Although there will be rather fewer international students to begin with this year, 3,000 more Swedish students have been admitted than last year and many are looking for somewhere to live, just like every semester.

Welcome back for a new semester!

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