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