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

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This post is also available in: svSvenska

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