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

 

The University of Gothenburg Receives Record Grant Amount

Yet another intense week has passed and Pro-Vice-Chancellor Mattias Goksör and I are feeling increasingly comfortable in our new roles. Needless to say, there are many new things we need to become familiar with and we must also get to know a lot of new people, but what’s most important is that everything feels right, and it certainly does.

The past week has been packed with various internal and external activities, ranging from a University Board meeting and a strategy meeting with all the Deans and Heads of Departments to the Book Fair, Swedish Prince Daniel’s visit and the 100-year anniversary of the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

Last week, the Swedish government presented its autumn budget. As for the University’s education, the budget bill earmarks additional funding amounting to SEK 17 million for three years that we will be able to use to expand our courses and programmes. In order to make use of this money in the best possible way, we’re going to carefully analyse where they will make the most impact. We will also receive funding for the admission of 46 full-time summer school students next year. As for our research, the free basic funding will increase by SEK 25 million. This is based on quality aspects, which is great. We will analyse the outcome and develop a plan for how to distribute the money within the University. Another positive thing is that the government’s quality investment of SEK 30 million/year in the humanities and social sciences will continue at least until 2020.

Overall, the bill indicates that the government’s investment in higher education will continue, and it’s great news that the spending on the humanities and social sciences will continue after 2018, as short-term injections tend to be ineffective.

Additional information about national funding came through the Swedish Research Council, which within the framework of the national research infrastructure investments awarded funding to three units connected to the University of Gothenburg: the Swedish National Data Service, the Swedish Language Bank and Evaluation Through Follow-up. All three units are nationally important research infrastructures.

We were just informed that the University will receive a record amount of SEK 188 million in research funding from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation. The amount is one-third of the Foundation’s total project funding for 2017. It will go to five different projects in the fields of medicine and natural science and will be paid out over five years. Thursday, we coincidentally celebrated the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation’s 100-year anniversary with a symposium titled Metabolism – The Foundation of Life, hosted by the University of Gothenburg, Chalmers University of Technology and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. I think Peter Wallenberg Jr. and Göran Sandberg, president and executive director of the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, as well as Secretary General of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences Göran K. Hansson, were happy with the event. Many thanks from us at the University of Gothenburg!

Another thing that happened Thursday was that this year’s Göteborg Book Fair opened its doors. The theme this year is Bildung and cultivation, and on the opening day I participated in a panel discussion on this topic. Jonsered Manor arranged the event and the attendees were treated to a colourful discussion on the concept of Bildung and cultivation from a number of different perspectives. Quite cultivating in itself, in my opinion. The University of Gothenburg’s booth attracted a lot of people interested in listening to short lectures on the Dead Sea scrolls and other topics.

Eva Wiberg

Universities Can Contribute to Peaceful and Sustainable Development

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a seminar titled Mediterranean Crisis: University Cooperation for Sustainable Development and Peace. The conference was held outside Rome and gathered students from the Balkans, the Middle East and Europe to discuss peace and sustainability issues. The ultimate purpose of the event, the second of its kind and organised by Università Roma Tre in Rome, was to involve universities in an effort to promote peaceful and sustainable development in for example the Middle East. One key task is to involve students from the affected areas in the region and get them to start talking to each other.

Students, researchers and other university people got to hear about the work with Master’s programmes that has helped to build up the academic structure for example after the wars in former Yugoslavia and Lebanon. There were a large number of good conversations that I hope will lead to further cooperation with support from both the EU and the UN. I am also thinking that the University of Gothenburg has a good potential to participate in this work.

We have now formally welcomed our new students at an event held at the Museum of World Culture in collaboration with Chalmers University of Technology. Vice-Chancellor Stefan Bengtsson and I gave a joint welcome speech to more than a thousand new students, both Swedish and international. It was a nice gathering and we had a good time.

The University’s new doctoral students had their mandatory introduction day last Friday. The Wallenberg Centre was filled with eager doctoral students from all Faculties who were informed about what it is like to study at the University of Gothenburg. I also said a few words and welcomed them to the University.

Finally, I must say that it feels good to now have become Vice-Chancellor ‘for real’. Although I technically started my new job on 1 July, I must admit that it feels extra good after being formally inaugurated at the inauguration ceremony held a little over a week ago. I want to sincerely thank all staff and others who helped make my day special!

Eva Wiberg

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