Stronger cooperation with universities in the US and Europe

February brought two interesting events for the University of Gothenburg on the theme of internationalisation. In week 7, a 13-strong delegation headed off from GU to Washington and the surrounding area, while the end of the month saw the official launch of the European university network EUTOPIA in Brussels.

The aims of the trip to the US included showcasing Swedish education and research, and promoting Sweden as a knowledge and research nation. This was done over the course of three intensive days, in partnership with Uppsala, Lund, Stockholm and Umeå universities and the Swedish Embassy in Washington. We also visited our new partner universities in North Carolina and South Carolina, holding discussions and deepening our cooperation.

What do we gain from such visits? As well as the obvious – that representatives from the Faculty of Arts, the Faculty of Science, the Faculty of Social Sciences, the Sahlgrenska Academy and the School of Business, Economics and Law had the opportunity to meet their counterparts and to plan exchange agreements and collaboration – it also provided an important insight into the American context. Our many discussions helped give an understanding of the situation for American universities and what the Trump administration has meant for them. Universities in the US are expected to contribute towards economic growth, while at the same time financing is increasingly dependent on external funding and donors.

Another strength of this type of delegation – where several universities travel together, including faculty, student and management representatives – is that we can present ourselves as a united force, where Sweden as a whole, with all its competence in connection with higher education and research, has greater opportunities to achieve visibility and impact. We also broaden our horizons by being introduced to each other’s contacts.

The fact that working together makes us stronger was also shown clearly in Brussels on 28 February, when the EUTOPIA alliance was launched during a seminar where we, together with our student representatives, presented our vision of inclusive, open European university cooperation. A joint application within the Erasmus+ European Universities network had been submitted the previous day. The University of Gothenburg joined the network, consisting of Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the University of Ljubljana, l’Université Paris Seine, Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and the University of Warwick, during the autumn.

Our alliance will address global challenges, cooperating within research, innovation and increased mobility for both students and staff. This will be achieved by focusing on Europe 2050. Our network includes a number of clear common positions: The necessity of cooperation. The need to work regionally with industry and other players. And that our research and education must be shared with a wider audience by opening ourselves up to the world and not sitting in ivory towers.

In recognition of International Women’s Day on 8 March, it is also worth mentioning that gender equality and the work involved in achieving this often attract considerable international interest. There is a genuine interest in what we are doing within academia, and in gender equality in Sweden. This was therefore addressed during our meetings in the US, in Brussels and in the application to the commission.

 

Parts of GU-delegation in Columbia, South Carolina. Photo: Elin Fransson
Students of Eutopia-network. GU represented by Sara Gabrielsen, third from left. Photo: Eva Wiberg

Successful US trip gave new agreements

Eutopia launched mission in Brussels

 

 

Speaking out in support of our work – even in a raging controversy

Few have been able to evade the harsh criticism of the university’s research on dental implants and experiments on dogs in recent weeks. Employees involved with this work, and even others working in other areas, have been subjected to harsh criticism, hate and threats. Researchers and animal handlers, as well as managers and other employees in the core activities and support operations, have been affected. The university has received thousands of e-mails and comments on social media.

I would like to emphasise that I fully understand that animal testing may be perceived as controversial, arouses strong emotions and profoundly affects many people. Nor is this something that a responsible researcher can casually dismiss. A strict regulatory framework surrounds animal testing, and animal testing ethics committees process all applications. Researchers are working to reduce, refine and replace animal testing and always try to find alternative methods.

Reaching out with facts in the midst of a raging controversy is hard. A flood of arguments rooted in emotion drowns out arguments in this case that periodontal disease is a major public health issue, that the research has ethical permission and that the supervisory authority in this case confirms that we practice good animal husbandry.

At the same time, dialogue is important for us. In the current case, Sweden’s Animal Rights Alliance has always conducted its campaign in a democratic way and encouraged good behaviour. Animal rights organisations play an important role in questioning the use of animals in research. Patient organisations also have an important voice when it comes to the development of new pharmaceuticals and methods of treatment. Clearly it is difficult to reach a consensus on the issue.

Regarding our role as an employer, this massive criticism represents a working environment problem. I am aware that the situation has been very difficult for the most affected employees, who have been subjected to accusations and who daily have encountered inaccurate portrayals of their everyday lives, which they know is not consistent with reality.

This makes it particularly important for more of us to speak out in support of our activities, both when the wind is with us and against us.

We will never accept the threat of violence. Representatives from the Swedish Board of Agriculture sum this up well in an op-ed article in Göteborgs Posten (28 February 2019):

“In Sweden and in the European Union, we have democratically decided that animals may be used in research if this is done under strictly regulated norms. The research conducted must always be based on the needs of society and must never be controlled or limited by the threat of violence from criminal parties.”

In April the University of Gothenburg is hosting a broader dialogue about animal testing in research. I look forward to a democratic, perceptive and respectful dialogue.

Important research on dental implants sparks debate (GU.se)

Dödshot mot forskare på GU (Death threats against researchers at GU) (SVT 22 Feb)

Welcome Matilda Ernkrans

Today our government revealed the new ministers and among them some new names were announced. Within the higher education area, we listened even more attentively when the new minister for Higher Education and Research was revealed. Helene Hellmark Knutsson (S) is stepping down and our new minister is called Matilda Ernkrans. Congratulations to an exciting position, Matilda!

We have a number of important issues to talk about, and my hope is that I and my colleagues have the opportunity to meet soon. You probably have a new commission waiting on your desk. We are of course very interested in how you and the new government will deal with the Control and Resources Commission (Strut). At the University of Gothenburg, we work knowingly to increase internationalisation and are eager to match the national strategy for internationalisation.

We work continuously with cooperation, research impact, and our role in society; at the same time questions about academic freedom are in focus. Certain research has been a weapon in the current debate and the discourse is getting more and more heated. Within the academia we want everybody to express themselves freely, we are always open to criticism, we like a good debate, and we are used to defending our case. But we also have to stand up for academic freedom, to secure a respectful discourse and we should never accept threats and hatred.

We’d like very much to talk about these issues with you. I want to take the opportunity to invite you to Gothenburg. You are very welcome to learn more about our university’s prerequisites, challenges and possibilities. Let’s take a fika and openly discuss matters such as open access, the possibilities of digitalisation, research infrastructures, widening participation, research ethics, teacher education attractiveness, equality, quality assessment systems …

Very Welcome!

Eva Wiberg

Eutopia – a new European network

On Wednesday we signed an agreement to join a new university network, called Eutopia. With us the new alliance consists of six European universities. The network was initiated by the British University of Warwick together with the French University Paris Seine and the Belgian Vrije Universiteit Brussel. This November, the Slovenian University of Ljubljana joined, and will now coordinate the alliance. It was during this fall that we, together with Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, got the invite to join the alliance.

The cooperation is a strong alliance and one of the main goals is to respond to the European Commission’s appeal to create strategic co-operations between European higher education institutions.

All of the institutions in the alliance have a strong focus when it comes to quality driven research and education, and together we cover a broad geographic scope all over Europe. The joining institutions will take lead in particular areas, but we will all contribute in some way to all areas. The work will have focus on students and have an inclusive approach. This will take a more distinct form in the near future, and I’ll have reason to return to the matters.

The Vice-Chancellors sign on the agreement. From left: Jaume Casals, Pompeu Fabra University; Caroline Pauwels, Vrije Universiteit Brussels; Eva Wiberg, University of Gothenburg, Igor Papič, University of Ljubljana; François Germinet, University Paris Seine; Stuart Croft, University of Warwick. Foto: Photo Studio Nora, Ljubljana

The European Commission’s appeal has also resulted in a call for applications within the programme Erasmus + which is called European Universities Initiative. It has focus on student mobility and increased quality and competitiveness in higher education in Europe, and our new alliance has started working on an application. Regardless of the outcome, our participation will teach us a lot about how the commission’s coming programme within the area will look like.

I want to emphasise that this is an important strengthening of our already existing networks and collaborations. I’m convinced that, which you already know by now, to maintain the quality and competitiveness of our university, we need to put our focus on internationalisation from different perspectives, to lay a global jigsaw is one way to put it. Different pieces of the jigsaw can have different purposes.

I wish that a large part of our students and employees in different ways will make the most of the possibilities, to find that piece that fits, and participate in the international collaborations in the future.

Academia Can Open Doors for Diplomacy

Last week, I attended a conference in Siena on the topic of how academia and diplomacy can work together in connection with international crises. The conference was arranged by the European Association of International Studies (AESI) and gave a clear message to students, scholars and the public of how universities, with their research, education and engaged students, can help contribute to peace, human rights, gender equality and sustainability in a rapidly changing world.

Piazza del Campo Siena

AESI organises seminars and conferences to facilitate discussions between the university world and international diplomacy. The former is considered to represent objectivity and unbiased research while the role of the latter is to stimulate dialogue and agreements between states and governments.

The issues discussed at the conference include how the EU despite all the problems can and must remain a peace-promoting actor, no matter what happens. The situation on the Mediterranean Sea and in the Middle East was also discussed. We talked about how universities can help diplomats reach an impact in politically difficult areas.

In my speech, I mentioned some of our University’s outstanding contributions of relevance within the framework of the conference, such as the V-Dem Institute, the QoG Institute and the Centre for Collective Action Research (CeCar).

I’m convinced that universities have a unique possibility to reach out and find feasible paths where diplomacy may not always be successful. It may be easier for us to achieve an impact through collaboration in research and education, which is necessary in order to be able to implement diplomatic solutions. Our obvious role is to contribute knowledge and correct information. But academia can serve as a door opener and improve the potential of diplomacy.

Prof. Massimo Maria Caneva, President AESI och Eva Wiberg

Almedalen – A Transition to Summer

This year’s Almedalen Week and the West Swedish Arena, co-hosted by the University of Gothenburg, have now started. This time, we have focused our seminars around the role of universities in society. I was unfortunately not able to make it to the University’s first seminar – Tvärvetenskap är framtiden, men hänger universiteten med?   (‘Interdisciplinarity is the future, but are the universities keeping up?). It was organised by Mistra Urban Futures and, luckily for me, it was filmed and is available online. The discussion was based on the sustainability goals in Agenda 2030 and on the Swedish Higher Education Authority’s evaluation from 2017 of how well Swedish higher education institutions provide education about sustainable development, which found that only one quarter of the evaluated universities covered this area well enough. Although our University was one of those that received a passing grade, I do realise that more can be done. During the seminar, Louise Jansson, coordinator of student participation in the University’s sustainability work, pointed out that Swedish universities could become more innovative and create structures for tighter links between education and practice. I agree completely with her point that students should not merely be seen as consumers of education but also as important actors in society and producers of knowledge.

The University management represented in Almedalen: Fredrika Lagergren Wahlin, Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of issues related to outreach activities, Eva Wiberg and Mattias Goksör. Photo by Johan Wingborg.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Olof Palme’s first Alemdalen address, given from the back of a lorry. 2018 is an election year in Sweden, which will most likely add some heat to the week in Visby. At least when it comes to the debates and speeches that will be held. Other than that, the weather has been a bit chilly, despite the abundant sunshine.

I have several expectations of this year’s Almedalen Week. I’m looking forward to hearing what other people have to say about the role of universities in society. I have never felt a greater need than now to actively participate in the public debate, where our research can contribute to new perspectives and solutions. And doing so is fully in line with one of our most fundamental tasks, namely to reach out to and collaborate with other actors for the benefit of society. The Almedalen Week is a great arena for reaching out with research communication.

I also expect many informal discussions and exciting meetings. Despite a rather intense seminar programme, I consider the week in Almedalen a refreshing break from the everyday work at home and an opportunity to get a healthy injection of thoughts and ideas in preparation for the autumn semester. For me, the week will be a nice transition from the intense daily routines and tight schedule at the University to my more relaxed summer calendar. What I mean is that the Almedalen Week offers an opportunity for reflection, unrestricted thinking and a few days of collecting various perspectives and ideas that will then be left to marinate during my days off later in the summer. Later on, after the summer, my thoughts from Almedalen will be used as fertiliser in my work with plans, directives and projects.

I plan to attend several of the University’s seminars. And I particularly look forward to the Swedish Research Council’s seminar Hur kan vi främja vetenskapens bidrag till samhällets utveckling?  (‘How can we promote the contribution of science to the development of society?’) and the Association of Swedish Higher Education’s ditto titled Var går gränsen för vad vi bör forska om? (‘What are the limits of what we should do research on?’). In addition, we will of course get to hear more about higher education policy and the Swedish government’s inquiry on the governance of and resource allocation to Swedish higher education within the framework of several seminars.

Today was the Moderates’ day in Almedalen and the West Swedish Arena opened its doors.

This is so much fun!

Eva Wiberg

Almedalen Week – New Perspectives and Optimism

‘I see two reasons to be optimistic about the future of universities. One is the supply of people, and in contrast to natural resources, there is a great wealth of people everywhere. The other is that there is a tremendous abundance of ignorance and lack of knowledge in the world. Thus, universities have a seemingly limitless supply to draw from.’

Somewhat paraphrased, this is how Gudmund Hernes, outstanding Norwegian social scientist, responded to the question of the future of universities – endangered or more important than ever? See the webcast. A very inspiring seminar indeed, where Hernes said that we have good reason to be optimistic.

The Almedalen Week is like a long parade of issues and questions that get discussed from a wide range of perspectives. Here are some of them that I have chosen to spend the last few days focusing on:

  • Does the internationalisation of universities make Sweden stronger as a knowledge nation?
  • Consequences of the Swedish government’s inquiry on the governance of and resource allocation to higher education – what do the students believe?
  • Open science – is it needed?
  • The educational role of universities?
  • Half doctor, half engineer – are hybrid programmes the solution to new demands in healthcare?
  • How far should we take our research? How do we know if we have gone too far?
Panel from left: Thomas Strand, member of the Swedish Parliament (Social Democrats), Erik Bengtzboe, member of the Swedish Parliament (Moderates), Eva Wiberg, Jacob Adamowicz (chair of The Swedish National Union of Students) and Pam Fredman (special investigator).

During the well-attended seminar titled Hur kan vi främja vetenskapens bidrag till samhällets utveckling? (‘How can we promote contributions of science to the development of society?’), Swedish Minister for Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson brought attention to an important and sad paradox. Despite the widespread awareness of how important respectful interaction between academia, research and policymaking is, there is currently a tendency for some politicians to try to gain support by pushing issues supported by relatively big portions of the public but not by research, facts and experts. The idea is to appear as a ‘man of the people’ who is standing up against the establishment. This is an important phenomenon to point out, but I hope and believe that a vast majority of our politicians do not succumb to this temptation. The minister further stressed the importance of helping to raise the general level of knowledge and understanding in society – a task where universities have an important role to play. Today, schools are teaching children and teenagers how to evaluate the validity of sources of information, but at the same time we have large groups of adults who fall into mental bubbles where opinions become ‘truths’ regardless of what research and science have to say about an issue.

Another thing I appreciate during the Almedalen Week is the chitchat around the breakfast table, as it enables me to listen to and ventilate thoughts about seminars and panel debates that I and my colleagues have attended. For example, Pro-ViceChancellor Mattias Goksör attended a seminar titled Hur mår svensk demokrati och vem styr valrörelsen? (‘Democracy in Sweden – how is it doing and who is in charge of the election campaign?’). The SOM Institute shared some good news on the topic. Although we may sometimes feel that things are starting to go really bad, at least people’s trust in various institutions remains strong and consistent over time.

Those of you who are not in Visby may be interested in viewing the seminars online, live or at a later point. The seminars offered as part of the West Swedish Arena are broadcasted via the Arena Facebook page. This is an important step in making knowledge accessible to more people. Click here to view all of the University’s online streamed seminars at this year’s Almedalen Week.

Now it is time for me to leave Almedalen. I wish you all a fantastic summer!

Eva Wiberg

Visit to Singapore – a Glance into the Future

I just returned from Singapore, where Stefan Bengtsson, head of Chalmers University of Technology, and I had the pleasure of attending the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE) conference for a few very intense days. The theme of the conference was Future Ready Graduates, after the fourth industrialisation.

The conference included a roundtable discussion in which about 30 university heads from higher education institutions around the world participated. One clear message was that, regardless of where in the world we operate, we need to provide opportunities for lifelong learning. Opportunities for skills development by means of higher education is necessary in order for people in the labour market to be able to reinforce and revise their knowledge and skills to keep at pace with the development of society. Just consider the continuously evolving technologies, and artificial intelligence, which with great certainty will impose some severe demands on all of us.

Singapore is a very special place. For example, the country is home to some internationally top-ranked universities. At the National University of Singapore (NUS), we met with the new president, Professor Tan Eng Chye, to discuss an intensification of his university’s collaboration with both Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg. The University of Gothenburg has a central cooperation agreement with NUS, and the student exchange between our universities is among the most successful in Singapore. But more teachers and researchers should take advantage of the opportunity to work there, for example at CREATE, and at the Future Cities Laboratory, which is an interdisciplinary research centre focusing on sustainability. Researchers from all over the world can apply for a spot at the centre. Research concerning the ongoing global warming is a prioritised area.

At NUS, we also met with a couple of exchange students from the University of Gothenburg: Anastacia, who studies linguistics, and Gizem, who studies education. They talked about the multicultural environment and intense days at the University. They live on campus and have access to anything a student could possibly need – study rooms, cafes, shops, banks and sport stadiums. The campus offers plenty of grassy and green areas. In fact, it was built on a former golf course. Anastacia and Gizem think that more students at the University of Gothenburg should visit Singapore.

There is so much we could say about our visit to Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and our meeting with its new president, Professor Subra Suresh, and about our visit to Singapore Managerial University (SMU), which is involved in well-established cooperation with the School of Business, Economics and Law.

One key reflection is that Chalmers and the University of Gothenburg together and internationally can promote and strengthen the awareness of our work and what we have to offer. Together, we offer a broad, deep and complete environment for research and education.

Now it’s time for all of us to enjoy a couple of days off for Easter. I wish you a pleasant and relaxing weekend!

Eva Wiberg

Maria Knutsson Wedel och Stefan Bengtsson, Chalmers, Eva Wiberg, Anastacia (GU), Victor (Chalmers), Gizem (GU) och Kristin Rådesjö (GU)

New Biographical Dictionary of Swedish Women

The University of Gothenburg received a great deal of media attention in connection with 8 March and the International Women’s Day. The launching of a new online dictionary devoted to Swedish women and their contributions in Swedish society from the Middle Ages to the present was the main reason for the media interest. At present, the dictionary features 1 000 women, but the plan is to continuously add new names. All 1 000 women, of whom none are still alive, have played important roles in Swedish women’s history.

According to Lisbeth Larsson, professor of comparative literature and project originator, the plans for a women’s dictionary date back to the 1970s. However, nothing has ever been produced until now, as it has been notoriously difficult to acquire funding for something titled a gender equality project. The trick was, says Larsson, to instead start categorising the dictionary idea as an infrastructure project. The strategy worked, and now Riksbankens Jubileumsfond is funding the project, which started two years ago and is coordinated by Maria Sjöberg, professor of history at the University of Gothenburg.

Almost 400 people from various Swedish academic and cultural institutions have been involved in the dictionary project. That’s what I call excellent teamwork. Thanks to all of you who made it happen!

Those of you who still have not checked out the new dictionary, I suggest you do so promptly. And those of you who have suggestions for other women who should be included in the dictionary, please contact the project team.

The fact that the University of Gothenburg has helped bring attention to the role of women in history feels both exciting and appropriate as we are right in the middle of some major gender equality efforts. In fact, the Swedish government has instructed all higher education institutions in the country to increase the gender equality in all of their operations. The ongoing national gender mainstreaming project is an important part of this ambition.

Besides the launching of the new online dictionary, the University hosted several interesting events on the International Women’s Day, such as a panel discussion focusing on the presence of gender issues on today’s political agenda.

Eva Wiberg