Uppsala University, Sweden

Author: Eva Åkesson (Page 2 of 5)

Release Ahmadreza Djalali!

Researcher and physician Ahmadreza Djalali has been sentenced to death by a court in Iran. When an academic and colleague is threatened in the course of their professional activities, the entire academic community is threatened. We therefore join Karolinska Institutet, the Association of Swedish Higher Education, Amnesty International and other organisations in demanding that the death sentence be quashed and that Ahmadreza Djalali be released immediately.

Dr Ahmadreza Djalali is affiliated with Karolinska Institutet and the University of Eastern Piedmont in Novara, Italy. His work focuses on improving the capacity of hospitals in countries affected by extreme poverty, armed conflicts and natural disasters. He completed a doctorate at Karolinska Institutet in 2012, is resident in Sweden and has a permanent residence permit in our country.

Along with many other higher education institutions and organisations, we protest against this treatment of a colleague and fellow human being. We want to show our support for Ahmadreza Djalali’s family, we condemn the death penalty in all circumstances and we demand that the government of Iran release our colleague promptly.

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Internationalisation hindered by inflexible rules

(Original Swedish post.)

The Swedish Migration Agency is threatening to force fee-paying students who have too little money in their bank account to leave the country. The fact that they are getting on well with their studies and meeting their financial commitments to the University is irrelevant. This is completely inconsistent with the aspiration to increase the internationalisation of higher education and it damages Sweden’s reputation. The rules must be changed immediately; the changes in practice brought in at the end of January are not enough.

The government inquiry on internationalisation has just presented an interim report which proposes that “the Swedish Migration Agency should be instructed to consider, in consultation with higher education institutions, how procedures can be improved so as to simplify the processing of applications for residence permits for students, visiting researchers and other employees, and to shorten processing times” (SoU 2018/3).

This is important, but it is even more crucial that those who have received a residence permit and started their programme in Sweden are guaranteed the opportunity to complete their education. At Uppsala University we have had several cases when motivated students from the United States, South Korea and other countries have fallen foul of the regulations. It has just happened again. One of our students, who has been with us for one-and-a-half years, is to be sent home because she does not have enough money in her bank account. (The local paper wrote about the student’s situation on unt.se on 8 February 2018.) The rules say that students staying in Sweden on a student visa must have over SEK 80,000 per year available in their account. A student admitted to a two-year programme has to be able to demonstrate they have twice that amount. This in itself is an unreasonable demand. As a student one often lives with little margin, as many of us know from experience. Many students are financed by their parents, who can be relied on to send money every month but cannot always tie up large lump-sums. As many people are aware, students can also improve their financial situation by working on the side. In Uppsala, for example, many students have jobs at the student associations. That is the reality of student life.

The long processing times are another problem. A student who does not have a residence permit and is waiting for a decision can stay in the country but cannot do a degree project in another country. The bureaucracy gets in the way of their studies. A residence permit should therefore be granted for the whole of the programme applied for at once.

The Swedish Migration Agency’s inflexible rules are not just unnecessary, they are counter-productive. They are damaging for students, for internationalisation and, ultimately, for the development of higher education in Sweden. The exaggeratedly strict interpretation of the regulations is out of tune with reality. Change cannot wait. This issue is urgent.

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Good research – everyone’s responsibility

(Original Swedish post published 30 January.)

Today we have appointed a new Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Good Research Practice. Stefan Eriksson has long taught on and taken an active interest in issues of research ethics and will now assume a more prominent role in preventive efforts at the University. Good research demands good research practice. The University’s risk analysis has identified a loss of confidence in research as a significant risk. We must take responsibility ourselves, both for detecting and dealing with deficiencies and for preventive action in the sphere of quality and research ethics. We must persistently promote an internal culture that includes an ongoing discussion of research ethics issues. When something goes wrong, we must have a clear, legally certain system to manage complaints, both at university level and nationally. The establishment of a national authority by no means absolves the scholarly community or individual institutions of responsibility. On the contrary.

Since the Macchiarini case, higher education and research institutions around the country have experienced increased complaints of misconduct. To a great extent, the interest of society at large in research misconduct has been beneficial and has prompted more intensive internal discussions on research ethics at higher education institutions. The issue of confidence in research has also become a political issue and Minister for Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson recently announced plans for a new government authority to manage complaints of misconduct. The previous week, a sudden decision was announced authorising government research funding bodies to freeze grants during misconduct investigations. Here, however, it is important to consider the consequences. Research grants often support several researchers. This means there is a risk of affecting third parties and ultimately entire areas of research.

In the light of accumulated experience of cases of misconduct, it is clear that several areas need to be considered to achieve the result we want: to eliminate cheating in research, while respecting due process and without hurting innocent people. It is important that politicians, public authorities and research funding bodies also act responsibly. To be sure, dealing with suspicions of misconduct is a matter of protecting the credibility and integrity of research, but it must be possible to do this without wrecking research careers and, in the worst case, entire research fields. The consequences of decisions therefore require careful consideration. Here are some important issues to bear in mind:

  1. Investigate promptly. Currently, the process takes too long. It is unsatisfactory when an offence becomes time-barred because the investigation has taken too long. And it is not acceptable that an innocent person should be forced to endure prolonged exposure to suspicion from the community.
  2. Investigate carefully. This requires taking account of all the individuals involved in a joint project. Research is often a cooperative exercise conducted by a large or small group, with different individuals taking responsibility for different aspects. If all are tarred with the same brush when one has done wrong, the result is a work environment characterised by suspicion and control instead of trust and collaboration. In that kind of environment, creativity wanes.
  3. Reasonable consequences. The consequences must be reasonable based on what has happened, and must be decided by the right authority. The combined ‘penalties’ from disciplinary boards, research funding bodies, the scholarly community and the media may otherwise grow out of proportion to the fault committed. As mentioned above, the consequences for third parties of the government’s decision to allow research funding bodies to freeze grants during an investigation need to be studied.
  4. Consider degrees on the scale. The current system is a blunt instrument, it is a question of either/or, black or white. A careless unintentional mistake is regarded as misconduct, just like deliberate fabrication of false research results. In our opinion, the possibility of assessing degrees of seriousness should be discussed.
  5. Differentiate between misconduct and scholarly disputes. Being suspected of and investigated for misconduct is a great strain and often takes place in the full glare of publicity, since the media have quite reasonably shown great interest in these issues. But the open digital landscape can leave an individual defenceless, so that they risk having their name dragged through the mud before their guilt has been proved. It is important that accusations of misconduct do not become a substitute for thorough – and critical – scholarly discussion. Sometimes suspicions ultimately turn out to be a matter of scholarly disputes or, in the worst case, personal conflicts. If accusations of misconduct are used as a weapon in debate, we have taken a wrong turning. Then scholarly scrutiny and discussion turn into law, and then what becomes of science?
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First University Board meeting of the autumn

Today the University Board convened in the Segerstedt Building for its first meeting of the autumn. When we next meet, we will be able to return to our meeting room in the renovated University Main Building. But it was pleasing to be able to show the Board our fine new Segerstedt Building. As usual, I started the meeting by delivering a report from the Vice-Chancellor. The agenda for the day included decisions, information points and items for discussion.

We discussed the premises supply plan, which will come up again and again in our work on the development plan, which has a 2050 horizon. The University Board was briefed on the University’s information security procedures – particularly important after what happened this summer at the Swedish Transport Agency.

We went over the ongoing review of the University’s governance and resource distribution model carried out by a cross-university group led by Professor Per-Anders Edin. The watchwords in drafting a revised model have been comprehensibility, simplicity and transparency.

Last year the issue of a Mission and Core Values statement for Campus Gotland was discussed and the proposal was referred to the departments and faculties for consideration in the spring. One of the views expressed in various quarters was that it shouldn’t be a matter of a mission and core values, as these are the same for the whole of Uppsala University. Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor Olle Jansson therefore presented a proposed programme for Campus Gotland, which was adopted by the University Board. The programme will be available soon on Medarbetarportalen. Well done, everyone involved at one stage or another!

The University Board also decided on the appointment of a new Head of Internal Audit: Sven Jungerhem. Welcome to your new responsibilities, Sven!

In the afternoon, the new members of the University Board carried on with their introductory programme, learning about the Uppsala University Foundations Management of Estates and Funds, our music groups and museums, and the University Library.

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New semester with renewed vigour

Welcome back after the holidays! I hope you’ve all had a good summer.

The students have started to arrive in Uppsala and Visby. Many of our new students are in urgent need of somewhere to live. Even temporary housing for a week or two can be of great help in solving the problem and helping our students get off to a good start. If you are able to rent out a room – please do so!

In Uppsala, there is a housing exchange run by Uppsala Student Union in association with Uppsala Municipality, Uppsala University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences – studentboet.se. Anyone who wants to rent out a room or other accommodation can advertise free of charge on studentboet.se. You can also contact the housing exchange by email at kontakt@studentboet.se or phone 018-480 31 20 or 0723-22 19 81. In Visby anyone who has accommodation for rent can contact the students’ union Rindi: 0498-10 84 90 or boende@rindi.com.

For those of us in the University’s management, the autumn term began with an overnight conference for the Management Council on Gotland. We began on Tuesday with a visit to Ar Research Station on northern Gotland, situated between Lake Bästeträsk and the Baltic Sea. The director of the research station, Anders Nissling, presented Ar, which is a resource for education, research, innovation and collaboration. Blått centrum (Blue Centre) – a centre for water-related issues jointly run by Region Gotland and Uppsala University which Professor Gunilla Rosenqvist has just been recruited to lead – will also have some activities here.

Our Gotland trip continued with a visit to the the Bergman Centre on Fårö.  Uppsala University works closely with the Bergman Estate on Fårö Foundation, which enables our researchers to spend some time here and work in a stimulating, creative, quite unique environment. This year about thirty researchers have taken advantage of this opportunity.

Under the inspiring guidance of Kerstin Karlström, we were introduced to Bergman’s art, his relationship with Fårö and his life on the island. At Bergman’s home at Hammars, Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor Olle Jansson launched a discussion on artistic leadership. The afternoon ended with a film screening at another of the Bergman properties, Dämba, where we saw “Wild Strawberries”. We returned to Visby brimming with impressions for a pleasant dinner with County Governor Cecilia Schelin Seidegård.

The Management Council spent Wednesday morning discussing the future. What do we need to do to maintain our internationally leading position and to strengthen the University? What issues are on the agenda for the different disciplinary domains, the students and the administration? Many issues recurred from several perspectives. How can we create space for renewal? How can we use Q&R17 and what can we do to strengthen the role of heads of department? The day ended with an ordinary Management Council meeting at which we received a status report on Campus Gotland from Olle Jansson and Therese Iveby Gardell, and went through some of the consultation papers referred to the University during the summer.

Inspired and full of optimism, we now return to Uppsala, ready to begin another successful academic year for Uppsala University.

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EU days in Brussels

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Eva and Anders were in Brussels, along with vice-chancellors, deputy vice-chancellors and/or research secretaries (or equivalents) from Sweden’s twelve research universities. The visit gave us a chance to listen to Swedish officials in Brussels (from the Permanent Representation of Sweden, the joint office of the Swedish Agency for Innovation Systems and the Swedish Research Council, MEPs) as well as representatives of the European Commission and the League of European Research Universities (LERU).

One of the key topics was the Commission’s recent mid-term review of the eighth framework programme, Horizon 2020. The picture that emerges is mainly positive. The programme is simpler and more efficient than previous framework programmes. Its starting points are still relevant, though more can be done to improve both relevance and impact. The European Research Council is a success. However, funding is still concentrated to a limited number of countries/universities/companies and the process of widening participation (i.e. the share of funding that is channelled to new member countries) is making slow progress, while internationalisation (in the sense of third country participation) has decreased.

Another major topic concerned prospects for the ninth framework programme (FP9), which is now being prepared and will be implemented in 2021–2027. From a university perspective, the road to a successful programme is encumbered by a number of challenges, problems and obstacles. First, of course, there is the question of the future situation in Europe (the outcome of Brexit, various national elections, the migration crisis, the situation for democracy in Turkey and Central Europe, etc.). Secondly, there is the uncertain budget situation. Thirdly, there is the relationship between innovation and research, where the desire for innovation interferes with the prioritisation of excellent research in various ways. Fourthly, there is uncertainty about whether defence research should be included in FP9. LERU, for one, has said “no” in its advice paper.

On Tuesday evening we were generously invited to dinner at the Swedish Residence in Brussels, spiced up with a good dose of analysis of the general political situation in the EU, delivered by Sweden’s Permanent Representative to the European Union, Lars Danielsson. Much appreciated.

An EU crash course now and then is very useful – repetition is the mother of learning – and it is important that Swedish university managements are well oriented with regard to developments in European research and education policy.

Many thanks to Astrid Söderbergh Widding, Maryam Edalat Hansson and Elisabet Idermark at Stockholm University for a very well-organised and enjoyable journey!

Before returning home, we also had time for a visit to the Guild’s office and a separate meeting with Cecilia Wikström, MEP and former member of the Board of Uppsala University.

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Fantastic lectures

(Original Swedish post published 19 March.)

Last week I had the privilege of listening to two really fantastic lectures. The first was by Trita Parsi, 2016 Alumnus of the Year, who spoke on the subject: “The US and Iran in the Trump Era – Back to the Warpath?” The United States and Iran have a long history of ambivalent relations and their governments have treated one another as enemies for decades. However, the historic agreement in 2015 appeared to be the beginning of the end of their enmity. The agreement imposed severe limitations on Iran’s nuclear energy programme in return for lifting international sanctions and increased dialogue between the two nations. Now President Trump is threatening to tear up the agreement with Iran. What will be the consequences for relations between the US and Iran? If you missed the lecture, you can see it here.

The other lecture was by Professor Emeritus Christopher R. Browning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who gave the fifteenth annual lecture in memory of Hugo Valentin. Professor Browning spoke on: “Surviving Slave Labour: The Camp Complex of the Starachowice Factories.” His story moved us all deeply.

These were two of last week’s public lectures. Every week we offer public events that you can attend. My recommendation is to check the events calendar – Uppsala University has a steady stream of dialogues, seminars, debates and conferences with visiting speakers from all over the world.

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Eventful Wednesday: Inquiry on admissions, University Day and deans meeting

(Original Swedish post published 15 March.)

Today the inquiry chair appointed by the government, Jörgen Tholin, presented his report, “Admissions for new students – a more transparent and comprehensible system for admissions to higher education”. See the press conference here (in Swedish) and read the inquiry report here (in Swedish). The review is much needed. The current regulations on higher education entry requirements, admission and selection procedures are unclear, complicated and difficult to understand. At a first glance, the proposals look good. The situation will become simpler and more consistent. Choices made in upper secondary school will have a less decisive role, and an entrance examination will be introduced for applicants who do not meet general entry requirements. It’s a good thing that the Swedish Scholastic Aptitude Test will become less important and that a lower age limit will be introduced for the test. The abolition of credit increments and field-specific entry requirements is positive. Some work remains to be done and further clarifications are needed before the proposals are put into effect.

Today over 1,200 upper secondary school pupils visited us to learn about studying at Uppsala University. We rolled out the red carpet for them and flew the flags. They got to meet students and study advisers, heard student orchestras and got masses of information about studies, student life, the student nations and much more. We look forward to seeing them again when it’s time for university.

Once a term we have a deans meeting, often as a lunch-to-lunch meeting at a residential conference centre, but this time in the form of a full day at Blåsenhus. Apart from an introductory survey of ongoing developments at the University and in the higher education sector, the agenda featured two future-oriented items.

The morning was devoted to the the University’s comprehensive plan, Development Plan 2050, on which work has now begun. Previous premises provision plans – put simply – have come about as aresult of the Buildings Division asking the departments about their needs in the years ahead and planning new premises based on their responses. Now we’re raising our sights and adding a more long-term strategic planning perspective by setting the development of the University’s premises, buildings and resources in relation to our ambitions as expressed in our Mission and Core Values. What must we do to maintain our control over expansion areas so that we can develop, raise new buildings and plan not just in the short and medium term, but also in the truly long term? What will the University need 100 years from now?

We had a lively discussion about housing for students and employees, flexible premises for research and education, study areas, and cooperation with the municipality, the city and other actors outside the University. The discussion also extended to the question of what kind of university we are. Our identity embraces the modern and the medieval alike. How should we use our flagship buildings – the University Main Building, Carolina Rediviva and Gustavianum? Should we build new ‘landmarks’? What can we do to enhance our attractiveness so as to maintain our relevance for students and employees – nationally and internationally? The same questions also apply to development of the Campus Gotland environment. This was the first of a series of discussions that we will have in the course of producing the development plan.

The afternoon was devoted to a quite different question – the ongoing revision of the University’s rules of procedure. These rules formalise the University’s governance and management. The deans meeting was visited by the University-wide working group that is taking stock of the issues that need to be regulated in the document. After an introduction from the chair of the working group, Professor Lena Marcusson, the deans meeting was put to work. Group discussions tackled questions such as: What do we mean by collegiality? Which issues should be regulated in the rules of procedure? Who decides, about what, when and how? How are we to get people involved so as to ensure democracy and broad support? How are the vice-chancellor, deputy vice-chancellor, deans, heads of department to be appointed? The deans meeting passed on its views to the working group. Now the stocktaking process and discussions on the rules of procedure will continue. Other types of meetings are planned so there will be many opportunities for people to state their opinions. The working group will submit its proposals in September. The proposals will then be circulated for comment before the University Board makes a decision at the end of the year.

The day ended with reports from the vice-rectors, student representatives and University Director on what’s happening in their various areas of activity. It’s impressive to hear about so many exciting developments – many new buildings, new research initiatives ranging from the Antiobiotics Centre to multidisciplinary studies on racism, and new recruitments of doctoral students and assistant senior lecturers. It was a good deans meeting, characterised by a great spirit of engagement in education and research – and in Uppsala University.

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Brexit – what will be the impact on research and higher education in the UK and Sweden?

(Original Swedish post.)

Brexit will have consequences for research and higher education. How are British higher education institutions preparing for life outside the EU? What will the impact be on cooperation between higher education institutions in the UK and Sweden? This was the theme of a seminar yesterday, arranged by the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, Division for Education and Research Policy, together with the Swedish Agency for Growth Policy Analysis.

To begin with, Sophia Tannergård (Growth Analysis) presented findings from her new report “Brexit and the universities – an opportunity for Sweden’s increased cooperation”:

– How do people at British higher education institutions see Brexit?

– How are they preparing for life outside the EU?

– What barriers and opportunities will Brexit result in for Swedish and British higher education institutions?

After that, Lesley Wilson, Secretary General of the European University Association, brought up a number of questions relating to Europe, Brexit and Trump. I participated to shed light on problems associated with Brexit from the perspective of higher education institutions, and representatives from the Swedish Research Council and the Swedish Council for Higher Education contributed views from their organisations’ perspectives.

First and foremost, we can say this: we do not yet know what Brexit will mean in practice – there is great uncertainty. There is a great deal of interest among students in visiting the UK. We currently have 31 active agreements with higher education institutions in the UK. Moreover, it is the most popular study destination for Swedish students in the Erasmus Programme. Research collaboration is common, and we see that joint publications with researchers in the UK lead to more citations and enhanced impact. Several times during the seminar, different speakers emphasised the important role played by the UK in research and education. We have a long tradition of cooperation and Sweden and the UK have often been partners in EU contexts. We often have similar views – this has been particularly significant with regard to the more administrative aspects of the EU, in the Commission and the Parliament, and in the working groups and committees that prepare various types of issues and input, such as Coreper (the Permanent Representatives Committee). Many of us are concerned about a significant research country like the UK leaving the EU. Will research issues be less important in the EU in future because of this?

At the same time we can affirm that science and scholarship are international by nature, and will remain so irrespective of the membership of the European Union. It is highly likely that research collaboration will continue, though without EU funding. Not all scholarly exchange with the UK or with other non-EU countries is funded by the EU. But it will require an effort. One obvious risk is that the budget for the next research programme is likely to shrink, as there is no political will at present to raise membership contributions to compensate for the loss of the UK contribution. Uppsala University has many agreements that will continue in effect and some that will need to be rewritten. Presumably we will have to reformulate Erasmus agreements as ordinary bilateral agreements.

Here in Uppsala we have seen more UK actors seeking contact with us since the Brexit vote; vice-chancellors have been in touch with the University and the International Office seeking assurances of continued cooperation. We have had inquiries about strategic partnerships and British higher education institutions are applying for membership of European networks. This Friday, for example, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool is visiting us. It is important for us – and for British higher education institutions – that our collaboration remains strong. This is in everyone’s interests.

It can also be noted that competition has arisen as to which country will take over the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is currently based in the UK. So far Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Italy and Spain have declared their interest.

Lesley Wilson (EUA) raised the question of how political, or how neutral, universities should be. My answer to that question was that when facts and knowledge are challenged, it is our responsibility to be the critical and independent voice – regardless of whether or not this is considered to be political. As I have written in this blog before: The best way to meet the trends we are seeing today – political uncertainty, fact resistance and contempt for knowledge – is to strengthen the independence of the universities, defend critical thinking and provide conditions for society to move forward on the basis of knowledge.

I think it was good that the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences organised this seminar, even if there is great uncertainty at the present time, as no general discussion or impact analysis has occurred in the sector. However, the Association of Swedish Higher Education plans to do something this autumn.

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New guidelines for hire of university premises on the way and guidelines on students’ working conditions approved

(Original Swedish post here.)

Our guidelines on hiring university premises to outside parties are vague and need clarification. I am convinced many of us agree about this. I therefore raised the issue for discussion in the Management Council meeting yesterday, as I indicated I would last week, and Director of Building and Estate Services Peter Elenfalk has been instructed to draft new guidelines or a new policy. Further information about this is available (in Swedish) on the intranet (Medarbetarportalen).

The draft will be circulated internally for comment and several discussion sessions will be arranged. We hope that new guidelines can be in place at the beginning of the autumn term.

Today I approved Guidelines on first- and second-cycle students’ working conditions at Uppsala University (under the supervision of the President of the Student Union, as the picture shows). These guidelines apply from 1 July 2017. You will soon be able to find them on the intranet too.

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