The semester has started and activities are underway, with students on campus and many people very responsibly keeping their distance to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We have distancing hosts on campus to remind anyone who forgets. We had our first cases of infection in a couple of student groups this week, and the situation was dealt with quickly and responsibly by course coordinators and faculties. With so many thousand students, it would be strange not to have a single case, so this was not unexpected. However, we would like to take the opportunity to remind everyone to keep going, stay strong and comply with the restrictions so that we can avoid a return to remote education other than briefly in small groups while contact tracing is in progress. Both in Uppsala and in Visby, we are maintaining close contact and collaborating well with the health services’ contact tracing operations.
Keep up to date via the web (for employees, and for students) and follow the instructions about what to do if you personally have tested positive or have an infected student or member of staff. In Sweden we have great individual responsibility under the Contagious Diseases Act, which makes it an offence to fail to provide prompt information about infection.
As usual, the week contained many meetings. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor met the groups preparing for the Swedish Higher Education Authority’s review of our quality assurance procedures. Many people have been involved in the preparations and we will be following the work with interest. This week we learned that the government is making a legislative change and has appointed Peter Honeth to assist the responsible authority, the Swedish Council for Higher Education, so that the scholastic aptitude test can be carried out this autumn. There have been many twists and turns in this issue and we now await news of what this will mean for Uppsala. The week also offered a time for celebration when the Ångström Laboratory’s new Building 9 was inaugurated at 9 o’clock on 9/9.
On Tuesday, I (Eva) had a productive meeting with some 40 young researchers from the organisation Junior Faculty. I received many questions related to the ongoing pandemic and I would like to try here to summarise some of the discussions we had on stalled research projects, isolation, our take on masks and long-term impacts of the pandemic, and in which channels to seek information about the coronavirus/COVID-19.
It is not yet possible to take in all the consequences of the pandemic for research or to see how to deal with these impacts. The situation of doctoral students has been discussed and will be assessed in connection with their individual study plans to identify any needs for extensions. Along with other university leaders in Sweden, I am drawing attention to the need to extend funding periods and other measures. The impact of the pandemic has varied. While some have been able to use this period to focus on their writing with fewer distractions, others have been delayed by not being able to travel or being unable to collect the data they need.
The pandemic has caused anxiety and uncertainty about what to do, which can be difficult to manage. This is something we all need to bear in mind. I sometimes say that academia is an environment where praise is in short supply, and I think at this time it is more important than ever to be generous and show appreciation for one another. Get in touch with those who cannot be here physically and ask how they’re getting on. When working at home a lot, it is important to sit comfortably and correctly, and to make sure to move around. We’re eager to become incredibly efficient in Zoom, but it’s important not to forget those other things. A bit of light-hearted chat about inessential things has a place in Zoom too.
Whether or not masks should be worn is a question that many people feel strongly about. We do not require people to wear masks at the University, but naturally anyone who wants to wear a mask can do so. It is important that masks are not used as an excuse for not keeping your distance or following the recommendations of the Public Health Agency of Sweden. Personally, I use a mask when I travel by train or fly. We have picked up signals from the regional health authority that they regard public transport as a major risk. We therefore call on everyone to walk or cycle as far as possible.
When we look back on this time, we will surely see that we have changed the way we do things – what is important is that we maintain our focus on quality. One positive effect we can already note is that our entire organisation at all levels has become sharper at using digital tools in our work. This will move the University forward. Some of our digital solutions are here to stay – many people attest that Zoom meetings have worked better than physical meetings and want to keep them. Having said that, we have also realised how much physical meetings mean and how much we miss them.
I was asked about the long-term consequences for international mobility. This is one point I feel certain about. International mobility is important and must continue. Knowledge knows no borders. International experience is good not only for the career, it also brings intercultural competence that increases understanding between people. In this way, the Erasmus Programmes, for example, are also a peace project. On the other hand, our travel patterns are likely to change: there will be fewer short trips to conferences and meetings that can be held digitally. This will have benefits for both health and the environment. But keep going on postdocs, field studies, exchanges!
With regard to which information from the University about COVID-19 to follow, such a large university as Uppsala needs multiple channels. General information for everyone is gathered together in the Staff Portal and for students on uu.se, but the conditions vary so much across our broad university that local information is also needed at various levels. On the Vice-Chancellor’s Blog we try now and then to explain the management’s view of the situation and how to interpret the general decision by the Vice-Chancellor from this summer which is still in effect.