Full Schedule with Fellow Vice-Chancellors

As I told you in my previous blog post, I spent the days of 17–18 August at the Smådalarö inn in Haninge near Stockholm. More precisely, I attended the annual conference of the Association of Swedish Higher Education (SUHF), which gathers 21 university vice-chancellors from all over Sweden for discussions on various topics. These gatherings are important to me, as they offer an easy way to talk about things with fellow vice-chancellors. Let me mention a few of the issues we discussed.

The governance and management of our universities in relation to the directives we receive from the government is a continuous topic of discussion, and this time we came to discuss the government inquiry on the governance of and resource allocation at Swedish higher education institutions that the University of Gothenburg’s former vice-chancellor was recently appointed to lead. The government’s aim with the inquiry is to get ideas on how a more efficient control system can be designed in order for universities to be able to develop optimally. On 21 September, Pam Fredman and Magnus Petersson from the Vice-Chancellors Office will hold a hearing in Gothenburg with the universities. It will be interesting to follow the work!

Another ongoing inquiry, led by Agneta Bladh, chair of the Swedish Research Council, deals with the issue of increased internationalisation. A first questionnaire has been submitted by the universities, and we are all pondering over how nationally strategic we should be, in order to promote research and education as well as export strategies. We are a small country and have a lot to gain from inter-university collaboration on internationalisation issues.

And one further inquiry is scheduled to be wrapped up next week, the one on the rules regarding research ethics and the border area between clinical research and healthcare. This inquiry is headed by Councillor of Justice Gudmund Toijer and the issue is difficult in several ways: Where is the boundary between healthcare and research and how do we make the system legally secure, primarily for the patients but also for scientists and doctors? What rules should apply when other actors, such as businesses and international academic institutions, are involved and how long should the period of limitation be? Proper handling of these questions will require advanced expertise.

Action plans and policy documents are all very well, but now’s the time to once and for all gender mainstream the university in practice. The Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research at the University of Gothenburg is appointed by the government to support Swedish higher education institutions in this work. At the end of the year, this responsibility will be transferred to the new national gender equality agency, which will also be placed in Gothenburg.

A much talked about government proposal that I told you about a week ago, and that I will most likely bring up again, is the one about widened participation in higher education. The proposal involves a revision of the Swedish Higher Education Act; instead of only requiring universities to actively promote and expand their recruiting of students to higher education, as is the case today, the proposal suggests an increased responsibility to ensure that students actually complete their education.

Swedish vice-chancellors most likely agree that widening participation is a more adequate approach than merely widening recruitment. The concept implies that students should get the support they need (please see my blog post from 15 August). A lot is already being done, in terms of both recruitment and for example distance education, to enable people to participate in higher education regardless of where they live. But I think we all agree that we must never compromise on the quality of the education and that each individual student is ultimately responsible for his or her education. In order for us to do even more, and at the same time maintain a high quality of courses and programmes, we will need more resources.

UKÄ, the Swedish Higher Education Authority, is expected to soon make public its assessment of the efforts of the country’s higher education institutions to promote sustainable development. I am confident that our University will do well because one of the many things that have impressed me about the University of Gothenburg is the great awareness of sustainability issues at all levels, Faculties and Departments. This is something all staff can be really proud of.

Last Wednesday, all incoming international students were officially welcomed to the University of Gothenburg. About 900 students came to cinema Draken at Järntorget, which was far more than expected and filled the premises to capacity. Welcome Services were in charge of the event, which gave the attending students valuable information about our University, Gothenburg and Sweden. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Mette Sandoff, who opened the event with a welcome speech, said to me afterward:

‘It was great fun to see Draken filled to the brim with students who have chosen to come to GU to study – it says something about the quality of the education we provide. With such a well-planned and engaging welcome programme, I entered the stage and welcomed the students to the University with great pride!’

Eva Wiberg

Marita Hilliges New Secretary General of the Association of Swedish Higher Education (SUHF)

Together with around 20 heads of Sweden’s higher education institutions, I’m currently visiting Smådalarö and attending SUHF’s annual conference for vice-chancellors. The conference schedule is intense and I will tell you more next week about the interesting discussions we have had. However, one thing I’d like to share today is the happy and important news that yesterday 17 August, SUHF appointed Marita Hilliges as new secretary general.

Marita Hilliges is professor of neuroscience and has served as vice-chancellor of Dalarna University since 2010. Her previous appointments include a position as pro-vice-chancellor at Halmstad University. Marita Hilliges has already been involved in the work of SUHF for several years; she served as vice chair 2011–2014 and has also headed several of the Association’s working groups.

Marita will commence her new post on 1 October and succeeds Anders Söderholm, who has been appointed new director-general of the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ).

Congratulations, Marita!

Eva Wiberg

A selfie with New Secretary General of the Association of Swedish Higher Education, Marita Hilliges