Ethics on the agenda

This March, SUHF started a working group for questions regarding ethics, misconduct and good research practise, which I have been appointed to chair. This is an assignment which is both enjoyable and important. Many national and international networks have research ethics on their agenda. This group will work with research ethics issues on a national level during 2019 and 2020. The members represent different skills and positions within different subjects, and represent higher education institutions of various size and focus.

At our first meeting, we started off in the importance that our attention not only be set on misconduct. Our work must spring from the “good” and focus on basic values, the freedom of research, and that we take care of the responsibility that comes with this freedom. With our autonomy as higher education institutions, we have plenty of influence and authority. At the same time, needless to say, we must follow regulations and facilitate a thorough management of deviations.

Members of the working group raised the matter that the ethics issues are utterly important for maintaining trust in our institutions, which also is a prerequisite to keep our autonomy. That is, if we don’t succeed in upholding a good research practise, we as institutions don’t deserve our autonomy. We agreed on that the working group is well-timed, when there’s so much going on in the matter. For example, we talked about the increasing number of cases of misconduct, that there are new demands on education within research ethics, and last but not least, the new bill on research misconduct: (2018/19:58) Ny ordning för att främja god sed och hantera oredlighet i forskning. This bill will have a sizeable effect on our work.

I’m cautiously positive to the new misconduct board that has been suggested. It remains to be seen how it will turn out. I wish for more uniform assessments, more efficient management, and a coherent expertise that can have an advisory and prescriptive function.

Anyway, in the working group we agreed to begin with the comparison of our institutions’ administration arrangements, and to see if we can propose a national code of ethics. This is only selection from a very exciting and important work.

I will surely return to this issue.

Stronger cooperation with universities in the US and Europe

February brought two interesting events for the University of Gothenburg on the theme of internationalisation. In week 7, a 13-strong delegation headed off from GU to Washington and the surrounding area, while the end of the month saw the official launch of the European university network EUTOPIA in Brussels.

The aims of the trip to the US included showcasing Swedish education and research, and promoting Sweden as a knowledge and research nation. This was done over the course of three intensive days, in partnership with Uppsala, Lund, Stockholm and Umeå universities and the Swedish Embassy in Washington. We also visited our new partner universities in North Carolina and South Carolina, holding discussions and deepening our cooperation.

What do we gain from such visits? As well as the obvious – that representatives from the Faculty of Arts, the Faculty of Science, the Faculty of Social Sciences, the Sahlgrenska Academy and the School of Business, Economics and Law had the opportunity to meet their counterparts and to plan exchange agreements and collaboration – it also provided an important insight into the American context. Our many discussions helped give an understanding of the situation for American universities and what the Trump administration has meant for them. Universities in the US are expected to contribute towards economic growth, while at the same time financing is increasingly dependent on external funding and donors.

Another strength of this type of delegation – where several universities travel together, including faculty, student and management representatives – is that we can present ourselves as a united force, where Sweden as a whole, with all its competence in connection with higher education and research, has greater opportunities to achieve visibility and impact. We also broaden our horizons by being introduced to each other’s contacts.

The fact that working together makes us stronger was also shown clearly in Brussels on 28 February, when the EUTOPIA alliance was launched during a seminar where we, together with our student representatives, presented our vision of inclusive, open European university cooperation. A joint application within the Erasmus+ European Universities network had been submitted the previous day. The University of Gothenburg joined the network, consisting of Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the University of Ljubljana, l’Université Paris Seine, Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and the University of Warwick, during the autumn.

Our alliance will address global challenges, cooperating within research, innovation and increased mobility for both students and staff. This will be achieved by focusing on Europe 2050. Our network includes a number of clear common positions: The necessity of cooperation. The need to work regionally with industry and other players. And that our research and education must be shared with a wider audience by opening ourselves up to the world and not sitting in ivory towers.

In recognition of International Women’s Day on 8 March, it is also worth mentioning that gender equality and the work involved in achieving this often attract considerable international interest. There is a genuine interest in what we are doing within academia, and in gender equality in Sweden. This was therefore addressed during our meetings in the US, in Brussels and in the application to the commission.


Parts of GU-delegation in Columbia, South Carolina. Photo: Elin Fransson
Students of Eutopia-network. GU represented by Sara Gabrielsen, third from left. Photo: Eva Wiberg

Successful US trip gave new agreements

Eutopia launched mission in Brussels



Speaking out in support of our work – even in a raging controversy

Few have been able to evade the harsh criticism of the university’s research on dental implants and experiments on dogs in recent weeks. Employees involved with this work, and even others working in other areas, have been subjected to harsh criticism, hate and threats. Researchers and animal handlers, as well as managers and other employees in the core activities and support operations, have been affected. The university has received thousands of e-mails and comments on social media.

I would like to emphasise that I fully understand that animal testing may be perceived as controversial, arouses strong emotions and profoundly affects many people. Nor is this something that a responsible researcher can casually dismiss. A strict regulatory framework surrounds animal testing, and animal testing ethics committees process all applications. Researchers are working to reduce, refine and replace animal testing and always try to find alternative methods.

Reaching out with facts in the midst of a raging controversy is hard. A flood of arguments rooted in emotion drowns out arguments in this case that periodontal disease is a major public health issue, that the research has ethical permission and that the supervisory authority in this case confirms that we practice good animal husbandry.

At the same time, dialogue is important for us. In the current case, Sweden’s Animal Rights Alliance has always conducted its campaign in a democratic way and encouraged good behaviour. Animal rights organisations play an important role in questioning the use of animals in research. Patient organisations also have an important voice when it comes to the development of new pharmaceuticals and methods of treatment. Clearly it is difficult to reach a consensus on the issue.

Regarding our role as an employer, this massive criticism represents a working environment problem. I am aware that the situation has been very difficult for the most affected employees, who have been subjected to accusations and who daily have encountered inaccurate portrayals of their everyday lives, which they know is not consistent with reality.

This makes it particularly important for more of us to speak out in support of our activities, both when the wind is with us and against us.

We will never accept the threat of violence. Representatives from the Swedish Board of Agriculture sum this up well in an op-ed article in Göteborgs Posten (28 February 2019):

“In Sweden and in the European Union, we have democratically decided that animals may be used in research if this is done under strictly regulated norms. The research conducted must always be based on the needs of society and must never be controlled or limited by the threat of violence from criminal parties.”

In April the University of Gothenburg is hosting a broader dialogue about animal testing in research. I look forward to a democratic, perceptive and respectful dialogue.

Important research on dental implants sparks debate (

Dödshot mot forskare på GU (Death threats against researchers at GU) (SVT 22 Feb)