Uppsala University, Sweden

Month: December 2020

Nine years – an eternity and a moment

Today it is time for the office of Vice-Chancellor to pass to a new incumbent, and for us to look back on nine exciting and memorable years as Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Uppsala University. Though it feels long ago that we were entrusted with leading one of the world’s foremost universities, the years have sped by.

Inauguration Campus Gotland

We took up our duties at an institution that was already a leading university, well managed for many years by a long succession of predecessors. We found a self-confident and forward-looking university that had conducted its first own quality audits of all its research, setting an example for other Swedish universities to follow. Major internationalisation projects were under way, including in southern Africa, for us to build on. And a decision in principle had just been taken that Uppsala, the country’s oldest higher education institution, should merge with the newest: Gotland University College.

We took up the baton with great enthusiasm and ambitious visions and as we now reach our last few days in the job, it is fair to say that these years have been a fantastic journey for us. It has been intensely engaging, stimulating, inspiring, tough, sometimes heavy-going, but more often fun. We have had a few sleepless nights, but a great many laughs as well. We have led the University through setbacks and successes, as a link in a chain, but for the most part we have had the wind at our back and that will be our abiding memory.

When we look back on these nine years, we realise how much has happened along the way, at the University and in the world around us. At quite an early stage of our term of office, we decided on a few strategic priorities for our endeavours: quality, infrastructure, internationalisation, and skills and careers. These priorities have endured. When asked to describe our term of office in the invitation booklet for the Succession Ceremony, we were able to state that it had been a period of vigorous expansion and development in many areas.

Sanord conference 2016

The national and international context has also changed during these years, with growing concerns and political divisions. We have seen knowledge called into question, fake information spread, and the freedom of our academic colleagues threatened in many countries. Security issues have gained in importance. On the other hand, the global knowledge society has grown far stronger in the course of these years. In the crises we have experienced, it has been clear that solutions to societal challenges require broad mobilisation and collaboration, nationally and internationally. Expectations of universities have probably never been as high as they are now. Every year, half the students completing upper secondary school go on to higher education. Society invests the highest hopes in our ability to contribute solutions to societal challenges. It is important to maintain this confidence.

Uppsala University stands on a firm footing and continues to evolve with the world around it, as it has done throughout history, guided by its own abilities, constraints and priorities.

We have been proud to see the great commitment displayed by the University’s researchers and teachers as they interact with students, develop new educational approaches, courses and programmes, make new research discoveries and achieve success in the competition for grants. Every day, research results are produced that expand our knowledge, develop society and are translated into commercialisable innovations. Three research bills and a number of ministers have come and gone, and new issues have risen up the agenda. Interdisciplinary initiatives and research infrastructure are two issues that have become increasingly prominent. Research infrastructure remains highly topical, with an ongoing government inquiry on responsibility and funding due to report in the spring.

Campus Gotland

A university is a hive of creativity, and the students play an enormous role in the inspiring environment. It has been a privilege to meet all the intelligent and ambitious students who are so committed to their studies and to the University. Eva has sometimes been called the students’ Vice-Chancellor, a title that comes with an undertone of criticism. But in fact, this title is an honour that a Vice-Chancellor can only hope to live up to. A university exists for its students and their future.

Welcoming new students

Being Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Uppsala University differs from having these roles at other universities. Uppsala University is extra everything, as it were, so much more than an institution for education and research. There are orchestras, choirs, gardens, museums, exercitia, ceremonial academic traditions – culture in the broad sense of the word. Our cultural heritage and our attractive city locations in Uppsala and Visby make it easy to offer something special for everyone, so we have many visitors, from far and near.

Our final year has turned out very differently than we anticipated, being dominated by the ongoing pandemic. But we have gained valuable experience of leadership in times of crisis and have been impressed by the commitment, creativity and patience exhibited by all our staff and students. Still, a university, after all, is an environment for new thinking.

We have had the privilege of helping to create conditions and shape developments during a short period in the history of the University. The Mission, Goals and Strategies document is the baton we hand on to the University and our successors. One of our goals has been to leave a well-managed university ready for continued success and development. We know it takes time to grasp the complexity of this marvellous institution. We wish our successors Anders Hagfeldt and Coco Norén good luck and all the very best.

As we come to our goodbyes, we have many people to thank – this is not a job you do on your own. Many deserve credit both for what was already in place when we started and what has been achieved during these nine years. No names, but sincere thanks to you all.

This post concludes the Vice-Chancellor’s Blog, where we have individually or together shared close to 714 posts in nearly nine years. Our thanks to all our readers for the interest you have shown!

Eva and Anders.

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Extension of COVID-19 decision and adoption of Development Plan 2050

Today we decided to extend the current decision of the Vice-Chancellor concerning COVID-19. Consequently, online solutions remain the first-choice option where possible. The infection situation does not permit any relaxation and to make it possible to plan, we are extending the validity of the decision until 22 March. This will provide time to make a considered choice on how to proceed half way through the spring semester, based on the state of the pandemic.

During the summer and early autumn, we began to plan to gradually open up the University for more educational and other activities physically on site in our premises. A living study environment where students meet one another and their teachers is important for the student experience and, in the long run, for the quality of education.

However, the state of the pandemic in the region and in the rest of Sweden was against us. Instead of returning to campus, we decided in November to tighten the application of the guidelines in effect at the University, initially until 17 January and now until 22 March.

Another of today’s decisions concerned the much longer-term development of the University. Development Plan 2050 was adopted as a framework for the University’s spatial structure and physical shape in Uppsala and Visby over the coming decades. The site where the Segerstedt Building was erected was reserved for the University’s future development long ago in the 19th century. Our intention in adopting Development Plan 2050 is to take a similar responsibility for future generations.

Read more about Development Plan 2050.

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Inspiring multidisciplinary research centres

This week we took decisions on co-financing for two new cross-cutting research initiatives: Uppsala Diabetic Centre (UDC) and Higher Education as Research Object (HERO). We also approved continued funding for Uppsala Antibiotic Centre (UAC).

These research centres are just a few of the multidisciplinary initiatives conducted at our University in recent years. This is a pleasing and exciting development which the disciplinary domains have stimulated and encouraged in an impressive manner, showing great commitment.

In the course of a number of weeks this autumn, the University management has had the opportunity to visit some of these centres. At first the visits could be conducted live, but we later switched to virtual visits. The visits have been inspiring and impressive and have given us a more in-depth picture of the opportunities and challenges associated with cross-cutting initiatives.

Olof Lindahl at Uppsala Antibiotic Centre

It has been fascinating to see how the different centres have tackled the challenge of creating something new across disciplinary lines. We visited the multidisciplinary graduate school in sustainable development now being established at Campus Gotland. Next we visited Uppsala Antibiotic Centre UAC, whose research environment is also built around a common research school. Those involved are not physically located in one place, but they have joint seminars and other activities. AI4Research has instead initiated internal sabbaticals, with senior researchers from different parts of the University spending a period at the AI hub. WoMHeR has 16 doctoral students on the way in an interdisciplinary research school with six different themes related to women’s mental health. Meanwhile, at Uppsala University Sustainability Initiatives, UUSI, all five themes are underway and several research applications have been submitted. Next week we will make one final visit, to the Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism (CEMFOR).

Visit to AI4Research

We hear many recurring themes during our visits. Multidisciplinary meeting places create inspiring discussions and new ideas, as well as knowledge about and respect for one another’s methods. Cooperation between researchers with backgrounds in different fields leads to personal development, but is also challenging. It is often easier for the doctoral students to connect than it is for their supervisors, who are more firmly rooted in the culture of their own discipline. Moreover, there are some administrative complications.

Virtual meeting with WoMHeR

This type of initiative is the way of the future, of that we are certain. The great challenges confronting society demand expertise from multiple disciplines and perspectives. Being sensitive to contemporary problems in society can focus the questions we ask and move research forward. Thanks to all the initiatives now in progress, we will have many young and ambitious researchers a few years down the road, with experience of multidisciplinary cooperation that they can build on in academia and the wider community.

Change takes time and we need both strong disciplines and strong multidisciplinary environments. We need to learn more about success factors in practice. The University needs to find ways to put the lessons learned to good use. In this connection, another cross-cutting initiative, CIRCUS, may be a valuable resource. Rather than being a thematic initiative, this is a centre that specialises in stimulating and developing multidisciplinary research projects. It appears clear to us that there is much to be gained from an exchange of experience between CIRCUS and other cross-cutting initiatives.

Having such a broad range of strong disciplines, Uppsala University has extraordinary potential for innovative constructions across boundaries. At the same time, strong disciplines with strong internal cultures and methods mean there are many obstacles to overcome on the way. This point is emphasised by Professor Emeritus Anders Bäckström, who recently published a book on multidisciplinary cooperation. https://mp.uu.se/web/nyheter/-/erfarenheter-av-att-starta-mangvetenskapligt-centrum

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The execution of Ahmadreza Djalali must be stopped

One of the most important tasks of universities is to stand up for and defend the freedom of research, education and knowledge. Last week, disturbing information emerged that preparations were being made to carry out the death sentence against the Swedish–Iranian scholar Ahmadreza Djalali. The situation is urgent. With this blog post, we wish to draw attention to the death threat against Ahmadreza Djalali and the attack against the freedom of research this entails.

In the last few days, numerous private individuals, organisations, politicians, representatives of the academic community and governments have acted to bring about the release of Ahmadreza Djalali. Some 150 Nobel Laureates have directly addressed Iran in a joint letter demanding the halting of the execution and the release of Ahmadreza Djalali. The network Scholars at Risk has also got involved in the case and we 21 vice-chancellors and university presidents in the Swedish branch of the network published an opinion column in the newspaper Expressen at the weekend. We demand that the responsible authorities in Iran halt the execution and immediately release Ahmadreza Djalali and that the Swedish government, like the international community, act forcefully to bring about his release.

The treatment of Ahmadreza Djalali is a serious injustice against him and his family. The arrest and judgment represent a flagrant disregard for international principles of academic freedom, due process and humane treatment of prisoners. These principles are guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran has also acceded.

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