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

The University Gets Clearer Career Paths

Yesterday, 22 February, the University Board approved a new appointments procedure for the University. The decision will hopefully add clarity to career paths and some important employment issues. The updating of the appointments procedure is mainly a result of legislative changes that will go into effect 1 April 2018.

More concretely, it will become possible to be appointed as biträdande lektor/associate senior lecturer within five years of completing a doctoral degree, and then to be considered for a position as lektor/senior lecturer after 4–6 years. A career development position that can lead to a professorship.

Another issue that deserves attention is what happens at the end of a career as professor. I think it is important that the University of Gothenburg take advantage of the competence and experience that our professors still have after age 67. Clarity and coherence in the career structure is also important. Today, not all higher education institutions do things the same way. I believe that the University Board’s elimination of the title and staff category senior professor/post retirement professor, as it lacks support in the Swedish Higher Education Act, will contribute to an increased clarity and standardisation.

But not everybody is happy. The other day, I received a letter from a group of post retirement professors at the University. They feel as if they are being victims of age discrimination and therefore oppose the University Board’s decision.

The elimination of post retirement professors as a staff category has nothing to do with the opportunities for retired professors to continue working for/at the University of Gothenburg, with or without a formal employment contract. It is also important to point out that all professors, after reaching retirement age, will always have the right to use the title professor emeritus/emerita.

I will shortly revise the rules for the continued contributions of retired professors at the University of Gothenburg. According to the new rules, the title of senior researcher will be introduced for employed professor emeriti. Similar to the current rules for post retirement professors, a post as senior researcher will have to be renewed every year and will not be subject to an upper age or time limit.

I appreciate the new appointments structure, as it will increase the opportunities for permanent employment and yield clearer career paths from the beginning to the end of the academic working life. In the end, what it all comes down to is the University’s ability to take care of and fully utilise its most important asset – its staff and everything they are able to contribute.

Eva Wiberg

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