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