Ahmadreza Djalali, Sentenced to Death in Iran, Must Be Released

I have followed the case of Ahmadreza Djalali with great distress. Djalali is a researcher in the field of disaster medicine. He is affiliated with for example Karolinska Institutet and has lived in Sweden with his family for several years. Djalali is a permanent resident of Sweden but is originally from Iran. He was arrested and imprisoned in connection with a lecturing trip to Iran in April 2016, and in October 2017, he was sentenced to death on unclear grounds accused of espionage by Iranian authorities. The case has received a lot of attention by both Swedish Amnesty and Scholars at Risk.

Similar to, among others, Karolinska Institutet, Uppsala University and the Association of Swedish Higher Education, the University of Gothenburg is an unwavering supporter of academic freedom and condemns Iran’s treatment of a colleague. We demand that the sentence be overturned and that Djalali be released immediately. We also want to show our support of Djalali’s family and condemn all forms of capital punishment, regardless of in what context and where in in the world it occurs.

Eva Wiberg

The Proposed New Governance Model Is Interesting but Gives Rise to Questions

As I wrote in my last post, the ongoing government inquiry on the future governance and funding of Swedish higher education institutions, titled Styrning för starka och ansvarsfulla lärosäten, may have a significant impact on the country’s universities and university colleges. Thursday 1 February, appointed investigator Pam Fredman initiated a tour around the nation to discuss the model proposed earlier this year in more detail with those it concerns. The first meeting was held in Gothenburg, and the remaining stops will be made in Stockholm (5 February), Uppsala (7 February) and Lund (13 February).

Yesterday’s meeting, held at Chalmers University of Technology, was good and answered several questions. All of us have had a chance to read and ponder the proposal for some time, and the meeting gave us an opportunity to ask questions and discuss issues we thought needed attention. I represented the University of Gothenburg together with Pro-Vice-Chancellor Mattias Goksör, University Director Anna Lindholm and the three deputy vice-chancellors for education, outreach and research, Mette Sandoff, Fredrika Lagergren and Göran Landberg.

The first time the proposed new model was presented to us, there was a focus on the general structure for allocation of resources and on the plan to distribute each university’s funding as one big lump sum instead of as today in several separate streams. According to the investigators, the latter will give higher education institutions increased flexibility and better opportunities for long-term planning and innovation. At the same time, however, the proposed model will increase the pressure on individual institutions in terms of strategic planning and ability to act autonomously.

At the meeting, we were presented a more detailed draft. In addition to the lump sum funding, which is assumed to give universities ‘more freedom and more responsibility’, the investigators are proposing the introduction of 4-year agreements between the government and individual higher education institutions. These agreements would comprise a central aspect of the governance, yet the question is how to design them in order to balance the government’s need for control and the universities’ need and opportunities for long-term planning and strategic interventions. The proposed model includes contributions from an ‘intermediary’, or some type of go-between tasked with developing the material upon which said agreements will be based.

In order to make the governance of the higher education sector more coherent, not least to create a stronger bond between research and education, the investigators also want to replace the annual national research bill with a broader higher education bill.

The role and responsibility of the intermediary is the part of the proposed model that remains a bit unclear, in my opinion, and this was also the part that raised the most questions at yesterday’s meeting. University representatives also voiced a concern that the proposed agreements will benefit the larger universities more than smaller ones, and thus eventually weaken the role of smaller academic institutions.

Thus far into the game, some questions remain, in particular regarding the ability of universities to handle the increased responsibility that the lump-sum funding policy will require, but also when it comes to the process of establishing agreements between the government, universities and possibly other actors.

Without a doubt, the proposed agreements will require a deeper dialogue between the government and higher education institutions than is currently the case. The investigators also need to develop and specify more clearly what the agreements will entail as well as the involvement of the proposed intermediary in the establishing of agreements.

The inquiry is to be completed by December this year. To ensure the best possible outcome, we and other higher education institutions need to follow the developments and take every chance we can to provide high-quality feedback. All of us will be affected by the final product.

Eva Wiberg

 

2018 Important Year for the Future of Higher Education

The holidays are over and 2018 is in full swing. I hope you had a good couple of weeks of rest and relaxation and that you feel ready to take on the spring semester.

It will be an exciting year. A big thing going on right now is the government inquiry on the future governance and funding of Swedish higher education institutions – Styrning för starka och ansvarsfulla lärosäten. As most of you know, the inquiry is led by former vice-chancellor Pam Fredman, who has been instructed to present a final report by early December.

We received some preliminary information about Fredman’s progress already at the end of last year, and last week in connection with a dialogue seminar arranged by the Association of Swedish Higher Education (SUHF), she and her team presented a first draft of the new governance and resource allocation model.

The biggest change proposed in the draft is that the basic resources provided by the government will be received as one big lump sum instead of through two separate pipelines – one for research and one for education – which is the case today. If implemented, the partly revolutionary proposal will be beneficial in many ways, but there are also some question marks about how certain things will work in practice.

As for the main advantages of receiving all the money in one bag, I foresee increased flexibility and better opportunities for long-term planning. At the same time, however, it will give us a greater responsibility for how the resources are used, which in turn will require more advanced strategic planning and improved interaction and cooperation both internally and externally. Ultimately, the proposed model will require all of us to take a greater responsibility for our autonomy, and as part of this we need to more deeply discuss the role of universities in society.

We will now have a chance to provide feedback on the proposal. The first opportunity to do so is planned for 1 February, when the inquiry team is organising one of several feedback meetings. One of the things I’m personally wondering about is what the proposed 4-year assignment agreements with various parties will look like in practice. This is just one among several issues that need to be talked about, and I’m really looking forward to the discussion.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Malmö University, which was re-inaugurated by Swedish Minister for Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson earlier this week after making the transition from university college to full-blown university. Good luck!

Eva Wiberg

2017 Coming to an End

This year is almost over and it is time to close the books. The biggest thing that happened to me personally in 2017 was that I was entrusted with the leadership of the University of Gothenburg. The University of Gothenburg is without a doubt a great academic institution. This was my impression already before I started here, and after six months as Vice-Chancellor, I can only conclude that it is true. Our University offers both tremendous competence and great opportunities.

It is of course impossible to list all the exciting and interesting things that go on at the University in a small blog post like this. But I can always mention a few things, like my excitement about the interdisciplinary approach, of which the University’s joint venture UGOT Challenges is a good illustration. I strongly believe that interdisciplinary collaboration, and I mean at an even higher level than today, is absolutely critical to our University. Both from a competition standpoint and to enable us to contribute to the sustainability goals declared for the world by United Nations as part of its Agenda 2030.

This brings me to the University’s own sustainability efforts, which are both successful and under continuous development. In fact, this was confirmed in a review presented by the Swedish Higher Education Authority earlier this autumn. Of the 47 evaluated universities, only eleven – or less than a quarter – received a passing grade and were deemed to have ‘a well-developed process in place for the work to promote sustainable development in the education’. We were among the eleven. The Swedish government’s appointment of Katarina Gårdfeldt, director of the Centre for Environment and Sustainability, as new director of the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat from the turn of the year can also be seen as an acknowledgment of our successful sustainability work. Gårdfeldt’s new position is both an important and a prestigious assignment that we can take at least a little bit of credit for.

The University of Gothenburg has had a successful year when it comes to research funding acquired from various sources, which is a strong signal that our research is of high quality. This autumn, we received a record amount of research funding from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation: SEK 188 million, or one-third of the value of the Foundation’s total project grants awarded in 2017. Outstanding! As for the national investments in research infrastructure, we received funding from the Swedish Research Council for three units connected to the University: the Swedish National Data Service, the Swedish Language Bank and Evaluation Through Follow-up. All three of these are nationally important research infrastructures. And towards the end of the year, we learned that three of our researchers had been appointed Wallenberg Academy Fellows.

Finally, I would like to say something about the biannual management dialogues carried out in November and December. It has been very encouraging to realise that the work related to the action and operational plans has had such a strong impact. There seems to be a clear understanding of how the plans should be implemented. It was also very interesting to listen to the priorities communicated by the various faculties and departments. We saw many pleasant indications of both strong commitment and good strategic thinking.

We also of course talked about the #MeToo movement, which swept across large parts of the world this autumn. It has been an almost surreal experience to witness a large number of women finally stand up and talk about the harassment and abuse they have suffered. This is obviously not a problem that can be solved overnight. Instead, it will require hard and persistent work. It is reassuring to know that we as an organisation are taking the issue very seriously, also considering that the Swedish Council for Higher Education has been assigned by the national government to review how the country’s higher education institutions are dealing with the problem.

When it comes to the University’s work environment in general, we feel that there is a consensus regarding the ongoing efforts, which Pro-Vice-Chancellor Mattias Goksör is in charge of. The first step to strengthen the University’s systematic work environment management is to create a stronger link between the central work environment committee, CAMK, and the local work environment committees, LAMK. A systematic approach to the work environment is critical in order to ensure a high level of wellbeing among staff members.

Thanks everyone, staff and students, for your valuable contributions and support in 2017. I wish you a good rest of the year and a happy 2018!

 Eva Wiberg

The Nobel Prize is great, but where are the women?

There has been a lot of focus on the Nobel Prize in the past week. Most people probably think that all the Nobel Prize things happen in Stockholm, but the truth is that several activities have been arranged here in Gothenburg as well. It started with the popular-science event Nobel Week Dialogue last Saturday and ended Thursday with a Nobel Prize lecture by Richard Henderson, one of this year’s three Nobel laureates in chemistry. We organised the lecture together with Chalmers University of Technology. It has actually become a yearly tradition for the two of us to jointly invite one of the winners to give a lecture to students and other interested people. It is my understanding that it has been greatly appreciated!

So, again, the Nobel week started with the Nobel Week Dialogue, a huge event held in a packed convention hall at the Swedish Exhibition and Congress Centre. 1 200 people, mainly students, had come to listen to seven former Nobel Prize winners, but also a number of other reputable individuals, including former CIA director Michael Hayden and New York Times political correspondent Maggie Haberman, talk about the future of truth. An important topic in an era of false news, alternative facts and widespread challenging of knowledge. The intention was not to focus on the president of the United States, but it was obvious that many of the participants had a hard time not mentioning what is happening in the US and how it is affecting the world.

It was both interesting and fun to take part in the Nobel activities in Stockholm. Saturday night, I attended a big social event at the Nordic Museum. Sunday started with an award ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall and ended with the Nobel Banquet in the evening. After a big dinner at the Royal Palace Monday night, I finally returned to my more normal life in Gothenburg a bit exhausted but full of great memories.

There is no doubt that the Nobel Prize and everything that happens around it are of great importance to the image of Sweden in the world. This is something we should treasure and be proud of. Now that the festivities are over, as a university we have some important things to ponder over. One such thing – and I’m not the first person to point this out – is the scarcity of female Nobel laureates. I don’t know exactly how many women have won a Nobel Prize over the years, but it is certainly not a very big number.

 From what I understand, some initiatives to have more women nominated have already started. For example, about a year or so ago, the Nobel committees started to invite more women to submit nominations. Another good initiative is that the Nobel Foundation in February next year will organise a conference where possible measures to increase the number of female laureates will be discussed. But I think it will take a lot more than merely discussing the issue at the highest level. I’m convinced that more fundamental changes will be necessary, and in this context I hope and believe that the gender mainstreaming efforts that are currently underway in academia will have a positive effect.

It’s really sad to every year in connection with the awarding of the Nobel Prizes be reminded of how difficult it is for women to reach the highest levels of the academic community. What’s more pleasant is to be reminded of the importance of basic research, or rather that it is a prerequisite for the really big discoveries. It is also good to be reminded of the importance of patience, perseverance and cooperation. In fact, many of the prizes awarded are the result of persistent work for several decades across both national and disciplinary boundaries. It was refreshing to hear several speakers talk humbly about their research breakthroughs and cooperation with colleagues.

Less silo mentality and more intense collaboration and teamwork. This may not always lead to new Nobel Prize laurates, but will with great certainty lead to more ideas and an overall higher quality.

From the Nobel Prize Ceremony in Stockholm
Me and Cecilia Schelin Seidegård, the Chair of our University Board

Cooperation with Southern Africa Benefits Democracy and Academic Freedom

University networks and international conferences are not always what they are cracked up to be. Yet last week’s jubilee conference of the SANORD university network (Southern African Nordic Center) in Zimbabwe lived up to expectations by a wide margin. I participated as a keynote speaker, and it was a very special feeling to arrive in the country just days after 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe had finally agreed to resign after 37 years in power. The fact that just about every lawyer in Zimbabwe had gathered to discuss the country’s legislation reinforced the feeling of experiencing a historic milestone firsthand.

SANORD is a network of universities in southern Africa and the Nordic countries. At present, it has 46 members, of which 21 in the Nordic countries. The network’s focus is on addressing regional and global challenges in research, education, innovation and development, and on contributing to achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals. The University of Gothenburg has been a member since 2011. The network, which was established to promote cooperation between the two regions, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. The University of Gothenburg had sent three representatives: Jens Stilhoff Sörensen, researcher from the School of Global Studies, Karolina Catoni, international administrative officer from the International Centre, and I. Jens spoke at a workshop on academic freedom and the transfer of knowledge between the North and the South. Karolina was among other things involved in arranging a workshop on how the international cooperation should be strengthened to develop SANORD further.

One observation that I built my own speech around was how the contacts between the Nordic countries and southern Africa in recent decades have developed from mostly concerning support, for example during the apartheid era, to a more equal partnership. A partnership where we, despite our differences in conditions and in the challenges we face, can learn from each other in areas such as the role of universities in society, academic freedom and sustainable development (for example in relation to democracy). While Zimbabwe and some other countries hopefully have some democratic advances to look forward to, the democracies in our part of the world are being threatened by some relatively new phenomena, such as false news, deliberate misinformation and an overall growing contempt for knowledge. Cooperation with African states where democracy has often turned into dictatorship can help us see more clearly what is actually needed in order to maintain and further strengthen a democratic system.

The importance of collaboration was something that South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor, too, emphasised in her speech. Both of us agreed that although our countries are located very far apart, modern technology makes it easy to reach one another.

Most of my speech concerned sustainable development, the responsibility we have as universities and what we can do together to contribute to the UN’s Agenda 2030 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. By using various examples, I tried to show how all of the goals are linked, but also how we with our research, education and outreach play a key role in the achievement of ambitious goals such as eradication of hunger, increased equality and education for all by the year 2030.

In the ongoing review of the international networks that the University of Gothenburg is already involved in, or wants to join, I feel that the cooperation within SANORD is well worth developing. It is a constellation involving two continents with vast untapped opportunities for cooperation, and we are therefore planning to increase our engagement in the network. This applies to both thematic research collaborations and various student exchange schemes.

The next SANORD conference will be held in Jyväskylä in August 2018 under the title Academic citizenship: recognition, resilience or resistance?

Eva Wiberg

We Need Effective Staffing Strategies for All Parts of the Career Cycle

I spent most of last week focusing on employer issues. The week began with the Association of Swedish Higher Education’s (SUHF) employer days and ended with the Swedish Agency for Government Employers’ annual meeting.

We live in an era with a strong focus on career issues in academia, both early and late in the working lives of university staff – from the work conditions of doctoral students, their post-degree careers and the opportunities at the end of a career as a professor.

New legislation that we must comply with from 1 April 2018 may be the beginning of a permanent post at Swedish higher education institutions. The reason is that on this date, the opportunity to be hired as associate senior lecturer no more than five years after the completion of a doctoral degree, and to be considered for a post as senior lecturer after 4–6 years, will be introduced. A tenure track position that may lead to a professorship. The idea is to ensure a recruitment process with high demands, and that both teaching and research qualifications shall be carefully assessed. The University of Gothenburg will introduce this structure on 1 April 2018, which means that the written employment procedure must be revised.

Another issue concerns what happens at the end of a professor’s career. At SUHF’s employer day in Stockholm, a group of vice-chancellors talked about the conditions at their respective universities for professors serving as emeriti or senior professors. Different institutions handle this issue differently.

I believe it is important that we at the University of Gothenburg take full advantage of our professors’ vast competence also after they turn 67 years old, but it is also important that we standardise the way we handle the transition and make our routines clear and predictable. At present, our practices vary across the University. The plan is to review how we use these two categories.

What the whole issue is about is really career paths and whether we as employers are acting as strategically as possible when it comes to recruiting and keeping the best talents from the beginning to the end of the career cycle.

Eva Wiberg

The #MeToo Campaign a Welcome Boost to the Gender Equality Work

My first time participating in the University’s conferment of doctoral degrees gave a very special feeling! It was a great experience to enter the venue together with all the excited and dressed up people and then fill the large stage at the Swedish Exhibition and Congress Centre.

I’m well aware of all the work that went into making the ceremony as perfect as it was. I’m also aware of all the work that the new doctors have invested in their degrees, and of all the support they needed and received from their friends and families from the beginning to the end of their journey. Now they have finally crossed the finish line and I hope they were able to fully enjoy every second of their special day.

And the dinner banquet was a true pleasure. With the assistance of our great musical theatre students and a wide range of staff members who contributed in various ways, it was truly an unforgettable evening. Thanks to all of you!

The Association of Swedish Higher Education’s Annual Conference – an Important Forum
The Association of Swedish Higher Education’s annual conference and general assembly meeting were held last week in Stockholm. I just returned to Gothenburg and can’t stress enough how important it is to meet colleagues on a regular basis to discuss the various challenges in our sector. The theme of the annual conference was internationalisation – an issue most of you know is very important to me.

The general assembly agenda was filled to capacity. The autonomy of higher education institutions, teacher education, infrastructure issues and open access were some of the topics discussed. We also talked a bit about what issues we would like to address and discuss a little deeper with the minister when she visits our annual vice-chancellors’ meeting in Steningevik in January.

#MeToo – a Welcome Boost Last but certainly not least, I’d like to say a few words about the ongoing #MeToo campaign. I think it’s great that a broad discussion about a problem that all women have always been aware of is finally starting. Namely that besides obvious cases of sexual harassment, there is also a structural inequality between men and women that is expressed in many different ways. One common example is men’s use of domination techniques to weaken the position and power of female colleagues, although admittedly women may also resort to such techniques.

What’s so great is that we are experiencing the early stage of a public debate that will hopefully raise awareness among all of us about problems that haven’t been visible enough in the past. Higher education does not differ from other sectors. We, too, need to be brave enough to deal with this issue, and right now we have a good opportunity to do so once and for all. Swedish Minister for Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson opened up for this through the meeting she had last week with the expert group on gender equality in higher education. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the issue of sexual harassment in academia, but they also talked about widening participation from a gender perspective, which is something the University of Gothenburg needs to give attention to as well.

 

Eva Wiberg

Academic Integrity, Japanese Sustainable Ageing – and Conferment of Doctoral Degrees!

How does the University of Gothenburg deal with academic writing, academic integrity and issues related to plagiarism? Well, the way we see it, these types of issues are largely a matter of education. In the week of 10–14 October, we had the opportunity to talk about this when vice-chancellors from Serbia, the Serbian deputy minister of education and representatives from the Council of Europe and its anti-corruption unit visited the University. All guests were given a broad picture of how we handle these issues, the different roles of the actors involved and how we work together to create a university that is leading the nation in academic integrity. Sonja Bjelobaba from the Pedagogical Development and Interactive Learning unit, who also has Serbian roots, played a key role in the meetings and gave an overview not only to the guests but also to the staff members who attended the seminars.

One result of the meetings is that we will continue to arrange gatherings within the University for discussions about academic integrity. In addition, we received a positive response from the Serbian delegation in that they would like to use the University of Gothenburg’s resource in the area of academic integrity as a starting point for creating something similar for all universities in Serbia. They also want to develop other forms of collaboration, so needless to say, it was a fruitful meeting!

MIRAI – Connecting Swedish and Japanese Universities through Research, Education and Innovation
The first MIRAI seminar, with Japanese and Swedish higher education institutions collaborating in research, education and innovation, with a focus on younger researchers and PhD students, was just held in Lund. The intention is to strengthen the cooperation between our countries. Seven Swedish and eight Japanese universities participated: the University of Gothenburg, Stockholm University, Uppsala University, Umeå University, Linköping University, Chalmers University of Technology, Lund University, Hiroshima University, Hokkaido University, Kyushu University, Nagoya University, Sophia University, University of Tokyo, Tokyo Institute of Technology and Waseda University.

STINT, which co-funds the Swedish part of MIRAI, participated as well, together with representatives from the Japanese and Swedish ministries of education, research funders and others.

Researchers, including PhD students, participated in the seminars, which had three general themes: ageing, sustainability and materials science. One special topic was the major research facilities Max IV and ESS and their counterparts in Japan, who would like to see continued cooperation in the future. In addition, it turned out there is a particular interest in innovation issues, and thus, a special group, for which the University of Gothenburg acts as convener, will form a task force with an aim to develop initiatives that will strengthen the collaboration between academia, business and industry and other actors in society.

Next autumn, seminars will be held in Japan, and a variety of workshops will be arranged throughout the year. Young researchers and PhD students are invited to participate in these. Read more at http://www.mirai.nu/

By the way, are you interested in launching a project within higher education and research that may strengthen the relations between Japan and Sweden? Then you may want to apply for funding from STINT or Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (RJ), because next year they will arrange a special call for grant applications in connection with the 150-year anniversary of Sweden’s diplomatic relations with Japan. Read more at: http://www.stint.se/se/nyheter/var/newsID/596

Time for the University’s Biggest Ceremony
As vice-chancellor of the University of Gothenburg, every week is full of interesting events. But this particular week ends with something extra special. Today, Friday 20 October, it is once again time for the Conferment of Doctoral Degrees, the University’s largest ceremonial occasion. As the University’s new vice-chancellor, it is not only a great honour but also very important to confer all of these doctorates in a wide range of disciplines that in various ways will benefit the future of our country.

Data and Artificial Intelligence Must Be Handled Responsibly

Last week, I attended the Science and Technology in Science and Technology in Society forum (STS forum)in Kyoto, Japan. This annual event, first arranged in 2004, certainly takes the idea of sustainability and long-term planning to a new level. Based on the technological development that has created prosperity and economic growth for so many people around the world, but that also implies major challenges, not least when it comes to climate change and increased divides between rich and poor, the STS forum takes a serious look at humankind and the world 100–500 years into the future. This year’s event focused on the topics of artificial intelligence and the use and management of data, both of which are highly relevant not only in our sector but also in society in general.

I would say that the STS forum is a very important conference to us. Not primarily because of its content, but in particular as a meeting place. The context of the event provides a unique perspective of the world that can be difficult to obtain elsewhere. It attracts a large number of high-ranking individuals with great influence and authority. Numerous ministers and Nobel laureates have participated over the years. As is customary, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave the opening speech. The theme was technology and artificial intelligence and how we as individuals are affected by the development.

I greatly appreciated the special meeting where about 50 vice-chancellors and other heads of higher education institutions around the world discussed the big challenges that all of us are struggling with. One important issue we discussed at the meeting was how to strengthen our universities so that we can deal with the societal challenges and the demands we are facing in the best possible way, at the same time as we safeguard our core values and our absence of political, ideological and economic ties. For example, when it comes to data management, the big challenge concerns how we can handle data in an ethically acceptable manner. This problem implies a big responsibility, especially since researchers from many different countries are involved, countries with widely differing legislations.

The forum is also a valuable platform for networking and spreading of knowledge about the University of Gothenburg internationally. Although I already knew many of the other university leaders at the meeting, including the ones from the University of Amsterdam, University College London, the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University and the National University of Singapore, as a vice-chancellor I interact with them from an entirely new platform, which makes a big difference.

In Japan, I also took the opportunity to discuss collaborations, existing as well as new, and student and researcher exchanges with several of the country’s universities. The University of Gothenburg currently has separate faculty agreements in place with Tokyo University, but we would like to expand this to University-wide cooperation as it would help facilitate both mobility and research collaborations. It would also provide increased opportunities for new doctoral scholarships. We are also discussing new collaborations with the University of Kyoto.

Once back in Gothenburg, the students made my day by giving me a nice mallet I can use when I make decisions. The mallet was a delayed installation gift and, as I understand it, a direct reference to my emphasis on student influence. I have already put it to use and promise I will bring it with me to meetings also in the future.

 

As a delayed installation gift from the students I received a mallet.

Eva Wiberg