Uppsala University, Sweden

Author: Eva Åkesson (Page 1 of 5)

Challenges and opportunities for the University magnified at Campus Gotland

Several trips to Campus Gotland were planned for the spring and autumn, including visits by the University Board and the International Advisory Council. Then came the pandemic. But this week the time had finally come to visit Campus Gotland. In the course of a busy two-day programme, prepared by Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor Olle Jansson, I met researchers, teachers, administrative staff, the county governor, representatives of the region and students. As always after a visit to Gotland, I returned to Uppsala full of inspiration and new insights.

We often say Campus Gotland is a place where we can try out new ideas in a smaller setting. Ideally, the experiences gained and lessons learned can be transferred to and advance all of our large University. At Campus Gotland, considerable parts of the University join up: 22 departments and the administration operate in the same corridors and congregate in the same lunchroom. New possibilities for collaboration, cross-disicplinary education and research open up when people meet in everyday life.

The new graduate school in sustainable development is one such inspiring example. I had the opportunity to meet head of research and director Jenny Helin and to see the fine, newly renovated premises with their view of the harbour. The graduate school is in the process of setting up, with several hundred applications for 12 new doctoral student positions that are now being evaluated and will be divided between the five research projects. The research environment built up will be multidisciplinary, with projects ranging from the energy transition in society, where Gotland has been selected as a national pilot, to investigation and questioning of the very concept of sustainability. Different meanings of the word affect what comes out of sustainability efforts in practice. The graduate school will also engage in external collaboration and combines regional relevance with international excellence.

Jenny Helin

The graduate school will provide an arena for encounters not just between different disciplines but also between different doctoral education traditions and different administrative processes from the home departments of the supervisor team. Challenges are bound to arise and those involved are prepared to take them on, though of course it would have been easier without the pronounced differences found in our large, decentralised University. I sense the existence of a problem-solving tradition at our newest campus, which we need to draw on. These experiences can be useful for the entire University; it is a key challenge to try to break down thresholds that put unnecessary obstacles in the way of cooperation across boundaries, in Uppsala as well. The graduate school will have all 12 newly admitted doctoral students in place in the new year and I look forward to following this exciting and innovative venture.

Other points on the programme on the first day included lunch with County Governor Anders Flanking and a presentation of Campus Gotland’s work with international students. After that, we discussed experiences from this period of the coronavirus and the application of recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Sweden and the Vice-Chancellor. Here too it became obvious that the differences that exist between departments and faculties in Uppsala come to the surface in Visby and grate unnecessarily. Both on Gotland and in Uppsala, we need more dialogue and cooperation about how we can learn from one another and eliminate unnecessary differences, a point that has also been brought up by the students’ unions in Uppsala.

Inspiring meeting with the Department of Game Design

On the second day, I met representatives of the Department of Game Design, a field that has obviously matured as an academic subject. The programmes attract students from all over the world who have done much to give the department a good international reputation by distinguishing themselves in competitions at gaming conferences. Doris Rusch, from MIT and Chicago, came to Visby for a conference and chose to stay. With her international networks and strong belief in the department’s potential, she is now helping to build up the research side in close collaboration with the already successful educational programmes. See an interview with Doris Rusch here.

I then met representatives of our partnership with Region Gotland – a collaboration with great potential where we are testing ways forward to find what works best for both partners. My stay concluded with a visit to Rindi students’ union where I heard about their vital experiences of involvement to promote student participation and of studying at Campus Gotland. I could see that our students are the people who can give us the most telling examples of ways in which our complex and compartmentalised organisation leads to unnecessary and baffling complications in day-to-day life on campus.

Lunchtime walk

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Zoom fatigue? Take a break

In just a few months, day-to-day working life has changed radically for most of us. Fewer journeys for meetings, fewer physical meetings, less small talk. Many people talk about feeling more efficient. However, many also say they feel more easily tired.

There is reason to stop and think about this. We have discovered that we can perform tasks that demand concentration and freedom from disturbances more efficiently when working remotely and at home, which has taught us to take a more positive view of working from home. However, the more time passes the more we realise that both we personally and our organisation have other needs too. A lot can happen when we meet up and chat more casually, without an agenda. Whereas physical meetings are invigorating, in the worst case digital meetings can sap our energy. We run a risk of missing out on the creative conversations that spark new ideas.

Walk and talk

I’m sure I’m not the only one who spends many long hours in Zoom meetings. One meeting follows another, sometimes without a break, and in the worst case, on top of that you’re invited to some Zoom lunch sandwiched in between the other meetings. Having said that, it is noticeable that many people arranging meetings have understood and made changes for the better. Shorter sessions, with planned breaks and group discussions mixed in, a variety of working formats and clear instructions to participants to turn off their microphones (and turn them on when it’s time to talk) and to ‘raise their hands’ for attention.

If a reasonable format for a physical meeting is a maximum of one hour without a break, I would say that a digital meeting should last half an hour. Our brains can’t cope with any more. A few words of advice to you all: schedule breaks between meetings and during longer meetings. Go for a walk, get some air, make sure to see other surroundings and meet people. And one other tip: sit up – no meetings lying in the sofa. I speak from experience – there’s a risk of nodding off (hopefully with the video turned off).

Let us develop the good sides of digital working and add things that provide energy and new ideas.

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International contacts and scholarships more important than ever

Yesterday I approved scholarships worth SEK 2.5 million that will enable 74 of our international students to continue their studies here at Uppsala University, despite the severe financial impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on them and on the families that support them. The international environment is important for our University and for the quality of our education. Meetings between people with perspectives from different parts of the world give rise to reflection and discussion – the very lifeblood of academic dialogue. We exist in the world and the world is with us in Uppsala.

The current situation makes it more important than ever to continue to subsidise tuition fees for international students who have difficulty paying their own way. I hope many people recognise the value of this and we welcome contributions from more donors.

Studenter Foto. Mikael Wallerstedt

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the closing of borders and put obstacles in the way of exchanges. Now, more than ever, it is important to seek and maintain international contacts and relations. This requires us to take initiatives to keep up contacts and find new ways to meet. Otherwise, there is a risk that the world will turn in on itself, and that distrust and conflicts will grow. Many worrying signs were visible even before the pandemic and we are now witnessing a worsening situation with increasing violence and expressions of racism. When people are pitted against each other rather than seeking dialogue and knowledge about one another’s points of view, we are heading in the wrong direction.

As a university, we uphold fundamental values concerning the equal worth of all people, open dialogue and the right of everyone to express their views and have an influence. We reject racism and all other forms of discrimination. Our Mission, Goals and Strategies puts it clearly: we will contribute “to an open, knowledge-based public debate with freedom of expression and human rights at its heart”. Equal opportunities and open, objective, critical debate lay the foundation for new ideas and scientific and scholarly theories, leading to a better understanding of the world. On this foundation, we will help bring about a better future.

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Transition to sustainability in progress

Yesterday I received a review of the University’s environmental management work in 2019. This is a type of report that all government authorities submit to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency each year, describing changes in certain environmental indicators. The figures were pleasing, particularly regarding travel, and it’s exciting to see that we are already moving in a positive direction even before the new environmental plan is completed. Goals and documents are important, but the real force for change is everyone acting together.

As one of the world’s most international universities, according to a new THE ranking, we will need to carry on travelling. However, we need to choose carefully when and how. It is positive to see that the number of domestic flights shorter than 500 km has decreased by 7 per cent in one year, and domestic flights over 500 km have decreased by no less than 24 per cent. Foreign flights under 500 km are 16 per cent down, while flights of more than 500 km have decreased by 2 per cent. The number of trips by train is up 11 per cent and the distance travelled by 30 per cent. This means we are travelling longer distances by train. As for bookings of travel-free meetings using videoconferencing facilities or Zoom, they have doubled in one year. Very good.

Vice-Chancellor and University Director practising Zoom

Practice makes perfect – we all need to put some time into learning techniques for digital meetings. Naturally this includes us senior university officers, so right now everyone who works closely with me is busy familiarising themselves with Zoom. You can find more information about travel-free meetings here.

The report mentions other positive trends as well. Environmental requirements are included in more and more procurement processes and we use 100 per cent renewable electricity. These positive trends are encouraging ahead of our revision of the environmental plan, the University’s Mission, Goals and Strategies document makes big promises in this area. Let us all pull together.

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Conferment Ceremony in early summer setting

The sound of cannon salutes echoed round the walls this morning. One salute for each jubilee doctor and one for each faculty. Forty times the cannons fired while the city slowly warmed up in the sun. As noon approached, our beautiful University Main Building buzzed with activity. Everyone was eager to find their seats and the atmosphere filled with a mix of nervousness and party spirits. Then it started. It is always a great experience to celebrate our new doctoral graduates and their successes – academic and personal. The Royal Academic Orchestra played, I gave the traditional speech and Margareta Hammarlund-Udenaes spoke about Fifty Years of Pharmaceuticals to mark the 50th anniversary of the Faculty of Pharmacy’s first participation in the Conferment Ceremony. The President of the Uppsala Student Union, Ludvig Lundgren, paid tribute to this year’s jubilee doctors, after which one of their number, Professor Adam Taube, gave a much appreciated speech. A dignified and beautiful celebration.

Now we look forward to the party at Uppsala Castle.

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SASUF a success!

Back home from SASUF, South Africa–Sweden University Forum, in Stellenbosch, South Africa, and trying to sum up the past week – many impressions. What impressed me most was the enthusiasm and commitment everyone shows for SASUF. More than 50 events and workshops in 13 cities around South Africa during the week, all of them addressing the 2030 Agenda and the sustainability goals formulated by the UN, gathered into SASUF’s six general themes (see below). Many joint projects have already been established and new ones were created during this week in South Africa.

Theme 1 – Climate change, natural resources and sustainability

Theme 2 – Education for a Sustainable Society

Theme 3 – Social transformation through change: Knowledge and social development strategies for society

Theme 4 – Understanding the burden of disease in Sweden and South Africa and its impact on the health systems of the two countries in the future

Theme 5 – Sustainable urbanisation, travel and tourism in the 21st Century

Theme 6 – Digital technologies, big data and cybersecurity

Full house at the opening ceremony in Stellenbosch

We are happy to be able to offer twice as many groups project funding during the upcoming period. You can read more about this at SASUF.org, where you will also find information about other funding opportunities for cooperation between South Africa and Sweden. One success factor for SASUF is that research funding bodies such as the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (Forte), the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT) and their South African counterparts participate in the forum and can pick up and respond to needs. The Young Academy of Sweden was also there, along with representatives of several students’ unions. The next time we gather will be in Uppsala on 4–8 May 2020, with satellite meetings at all participating partner universities in Sweden. Planning is already in full swing for a SASUF week that is at least as successful as the past one.

During the meeting, the participating universities produced a declaration that they will deliver to their governments, containing the following message:

The universities participating in SASUF call on their respective government to promote collaboration and networking linked to the United Nations Agenda 2030 through research and educational cooperation between South Africa and Sweden by facilitating the following:

  • To support flexible mobility of academic staff, students encompassing under-graduate, post-graduate, and doctoral students as well as post docs and provide for exchange opportunities for administrative officials – by strengthening existing funding structures and creating new ones where gaps exist.
  • To facilitate the development of early career academics – through the initiation of grant programmes to enhance collaboration and networking between South Africa and Sweden.
  • To ensure appropriate flexible funding schemes to facilitate partnerships in research and education between South Africa and Sweden.


Mingle at Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study – listening to Swedish Ambassador Cecilia Juhlin

I can already confidently say that the project is living up to its promise. All credit to everyone working with SASUF and especially project manager Gustaf Cars.

During 2017-2020 SASUF will:

  • bring together researchers from Sweden & South Africa in seminars, exchanges & projects
  • create innovative ways to approach internationalization & utilize the power of digital tools in international collaboration
  • connect researchers with funding agencies, industry, ministries & surrounding society in working towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

36 participating universities:

Sweden: Uppsala University (coordinator), Lund University, Karlstad University, KI – Karolinska institutet, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Linköping University, Malmö University, Stockholm University, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå University,  University of Gothenburg,  University West & Örebro University.

South Africa: Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Central University of Technology, Durban University of Technology, Nelson Mandela University, North West University, Rhodes University, Sol Plaatje University, Stellenbosch University, Tshwane University of Technology, University of Cape Town, University of Fort Hare, University of the Free State, University of Johannesburg, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Limpopo, University of Pretoria, University of South Africa, University of the Western Cape, University of Venda, University of Witwatersrand, University of Zululand, Vaal University of Technology, Walter Sisulu University

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We celebrate together

Tomorrow Uppsala welcomes the arrival of spring, whatever the weather. It’s a tradition that has come to be a celebration for the whole city. This has been made possible, not least, by cooperation between the local authorities, the police, property owners, student associations, the University and many others.

The last day of April is celebrated in Uppsala as nowhere else. We celebrate together, students, local residents, young and old, and many who travel to Uppsala just to be part of it.

We create our own traditions and add to them. The running of the falls began in 1975 at the initiative of students Anders Ahnesjö and Carl-Johan Hansson. The event has been developed into a week-long festival by the Uppsala Union of Engineering and Science Students. The running of the falls itself starts at 10:00. This year, 120 rafts will set off on the adventurous course down the River Fyris. I won’t be riding the river this time. However, I will have the honour of choosing the most spectacular raft.

People will be partaking of a traditional herring lunch all over the city. Many will do so in Ekonomikum Park, others on Castle Hill. As for me, I will be eating my herring at Uppsala Konsert & Kongress. I always enjoy that.

One of the highlights of the year, for me, is raising my student cap at precisely 15:00 and welcoming the arrival of spring from the balcony of Carolina Rediviva Library. This tradition was launched by one of my predecessors, Torgny Segerstedt, in the 1950s, and it’s magical to gaze out over the masses gathered below and see all the waving caps. These days we can also look forward to listening to the great Uppsala choir Orphei Drängar (OD) singing on the steps of the library. This concert is a relatively new tradition, which began when we closed the University Main Building for renovation. (Now it’s Carolina that has been through a major renovation. Anyone who visits our fantastic library building on 2 May will be able to see the result.) After that, it will be time to change for Allmänna Sången choir’s annual Walpurgis ball at Uppsala Castle. At about nine in the evening, we will go out to listen to spring songs and the traditional speech at the Gunilla Bell, before ending the evening at the county governor’s.

I encourage you all to to have a really good time, but don’t forget to drink responsibly (make every second drink water). Look after yourselves and each other. And pick up the litter.

I hope you all have a wonderful day. Thank you, all of you who make the last day of April such a great party!

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New semester coming up

Welcome back from the holidays! I hope you are all well rested and have many happy summer memories to look back on. Now that it’s time to get going again, it may take a while to remember things that were said before the summer break, and a few passwords may have been forgotten, but I take that as a sign of a good holiday.

The beginning of the semester is rapidly approaching and some of our international students have already arrived in Uppsala to learn Swedish. Some of them are taking the chance to make weekend outings, led by our university guide Mikael Norrby. Today I had the pleasure of going along on a coach tour of historic industrial sites in Uppland, in the company of students from all over the world. I enjoyed hearing about their great expectations of the time they will spend with us, as a Master’s student or an exchange student.

Unfortunately one thing is always the same at the start of every semester: the housing situation – many have difficulty finding somewhere to live. So this autumn semester too, I would like to appeal to everyone who is in a position to offer housing to our new students, whether in Uppsala or in Visby. Starting off with a good, settled place to live gives students a better chance to go about their studies successfully. You can find information about renting out accommodation at Studentboet. Thanks to anyone who can help out!

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Spring Conferment Ceremony, 1 June 2018

(Original Swedish post published 1 June.)

The doctoral degree conferment ceremony is celebrated at Uppsala as nowhere else. This fine summer’s day, the city of Uppsala awoke to the sound of cannon salutes announcing the University’s celebrations. As tradition dictates, we then filled the Grand Auditorium in the University Main Building to celebrate the Spring Conferment Ceremony, at which no less than 166 new doctors and 36 jubilee doctors were the focus of attention. The programme was both solemn and interesting. The degree conferrer of the Faculty of Arts, Professor Birgitta Meurling, gave a lecture on “Crinoline, corset, caftan – on clothes, gender and cultural analysis”. The President of Uppsala Student Union, law student Max Stenberg, paid tribute to this year’s jubilee doctors. Our own magnificent orchestra, the Royal Academic Orchestra, played under the baton of conductor Stefan Karpe.

It was just the way it should be – a real Uppsala conferment ceremony! Many thanks to everyone involved and sincere congratulations to our new doctors and jubilee doctors.

Study visit ahead of the Spring Conferment Ceremony


Read the Vice-Chancellor’s speech.

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Double EU funding for research and education

The EU budget for research, innovation and education needs to be doubled. This could lead to 650,000 new jobs and enable the EU to become a global leader in areas like sustainable energy, smart buildings and vehicles, infectious diseases, and the circular economy. An investment of this kind would also stimulate more inclusive societies, increase sustainable growth and reduce inequality in Europe. These are the main messages in a joint statement from 12 networks centred around European universities. Uppsala University is a member of three of the signatory networks (the Guild, Coimbra and EUA) and is therefore one of the universities behind this call for action.

Although Horizon 2020 is the largest framework programme, providing EUR 80 billion for research and innovation over a seven-year period to date, it is underfunded. The current budget supports less than 1 out of 5 high-quality projects and although Erasmus+ promotes mobility and employability, student mobility remains far below the target set in the Bologna Process.

As signatory of the call for action, Uppsala University shares the picture and analysis of the situation, which also shows that a doubling of the budget would still not be a substitute for strong support for, and investment in, research, innovation and education at national level. Success depends on a combination of adequate national investments in research and education and increased EU funding. The statement therefore underlines that the European institutions must encourage Member States more forcefully to meet their commitments in the framework of the European Research Area (ERA) and the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).

Universities are strong and committed partners in the search for solutions to future societal challenges and in boosting EU competitiveness, regional development and sustainability. The networks look forward to working with the EU institutions to make European research, innovation and education programmes even stronger than they are today.

Read the call for action

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