Ukraine – we stand united with you

Ukrainian flag and Swedish flag outside the University of Gothenburg. Photo: Johan Wingborg

It is utterly appalling to follow day-by-day Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and it is difficult to distance yourself from the news reporting. Governments and institutions around the world strongly condemn Russia’s actions and as a university, we agree and stand up to defend democracy, freedom of expression and human rights. What is happening now has not happened for a very long time and the reactions and sanctions of the outside world are powerful. Russia’s actions now – to invade a free state, with overwhelming violence and with great human suffering as a result – are a chilling and devastating attack on democratic values.

We now follow closely the initiatives taken in the Swedish university sector. While it is necessary to strongly distance ourselves and organize against the state of Russia, we must not forget that there is a large part of the population that does not support the war. Within the academy, we have a tradition of long-term collaborations, networks and personal relationships that can survive both war and this political madness. We also have the students, and the young people, who are an obvious force for a democratic society. Although we must now act responsibly and with careful consideration, it is important that the strong relations we have with colleagues and students in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus are not damaged or terminated.

The willingness to help is great and so is also our intention to build solidarity in different ways. My rector colleagues within Eutopia, of which the University of Gothenburg is a part, condemned the invasion in a joint statement on Sunday. It also heartening to see the Ukrainian flag flying next to the Swedish one in the University Park. Also within Scholars at Risk (SAR), a special Ukraine initiative has been started to develop measures on how we within the member universities can contribute.

Much work will be required in the future and for a long time after to strengthen and improve the conditions for people affected by war, invasion and the totalitarian abuse of power, so that the freedom and democracy of societies is restored. Here, the academy has an important role to play.

Ukraine, in the name of democracy, we stand united with you. Our thoughts and hearts are with you also.

Eva Wiberg

Do one’s bit

This week’s invitation by the Norwegian government to talks with the Taliban leadership has prompted a range of questions. Is this necessary in order to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe? Do these talks legitimize a deeply undemocratic government?

Regardless, the situation in Afghanistan is deeply engaging and I want to highlight the effort that universities in Sweden are making to try to contribute to the situation. Before Christmas, Sweden’s government agency for development cooperation (Sida) decided to fund a national support program for researchers from Afghanistan. Behind that initiative is Scholars at Risk (SAR) Sweden, which is coordinated by the University of Gothenburg.

When the Taliban took power in the country in August last year, it had devastating consequences for students and staff at the country’s universities. Subject areas and entire research disciplines are at risk because they are not accepted by the Taliban. But also because national funding has been shattered. International SARs has received applications for support from over 1,500 researchers in the country. This led to an appeal to SAR members to offer Afghan researchers a sanctuary at their universities.

SAR Sweden complied with this, with Sida committed to giving financial support to a program, which 2022-2024 will give around 10 researchers a temporary refuge at one of the 22 Swedish universities, which are members of Scholars at Risk.

Although it is a limited effort, it gives some hope that the research community can be preserved and can continue to develop in a democratic Afghanistan in the future.

Read more: Researchers from Afghanistan get academic sanctuaries in Sweden

Longing for the lifting of restrictions

With spring comes hope that the pandemic can be pushed back, if not because of the weather, then at least due to increased vaccination rates. In social media, photographs of people hugging each other are starting to appear and children and their grandparents can finally get close to each other because of the vaccination programme.

But it is important to remember that stricter regional restrictions are still in place. For the second year in a row, a traditional Walpurgis Night celebration with the students in the Garden Society of Gothenburg, will not take place. Current infection rates still make such events impossible.

Last week, I made a policy decision for the autumn of 2021, which regulates the planning conditions for summer and autumn and the university’s readjustments to the restrictions. A very difficult decision as, at the moment, it is only possible to hope for a lifting of restrictions but we are simply unable to know what regulations will be in place this autumn.

Therefore, we base our management on two different scenarios; one where most of the restrictions remain and one where they are eased. It is difficult to discuss return and opening plans in a scenario where stricter restrictions are still in place. But the decision emphasizes the fact that it is the university’s ambition to return to more campus-based activities as soon as circumstances allow.

In anticipation of this return, we must make the best of the situation. Let us all, employees and students, celebrate spring, in a caring, compassionate and responsible way. I understand that everyone has missed each other significantly, but please only meet in small groups with people you would normally see and with social distance observed. The city of Gothenburg has produced tips and advice on outdoor gathering and the city center’s most famous parks.

Spring is here and May is at the door. I wish everyone a nice and safe Walpurgis Night celebration!

Season’s Greetings

The University of Gothenburg wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in time for the Christmas holiday. But the strange year 2020 unfortunately contained further stricter restrictions when the government on Friday announced a number of measures to slow the spread of infection.

Therefore, I decided yesterday, on 21 December, on an instruction that also tightens the enforcement of the policy decision that applies at the university, up to and including 24 January. Working from home and digital studies have been the main rule at the University of Gothenburg since March, but now the situation is even more serious. Employees must work at home, with the exception of those with business-critical tasks that require physical presence at the workplace.

Furthermore, teaching and examination shall take place digitally if the Head of department does not have special reasons to take another decision. Our university libraries are closing their study places, but it is possible for staff and students to borrow and return material.

Read more here: COVID-19: Stricter regulations at GU from 22 December

Now Christmas is just around the corner and most of us are looking forward to the holidays. But this year, Christmas celebrations will not be quite the same. Regardless, I wish to send a warm greeting to all students, co-workers and colleagues who I know have made huge efforts during the year. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2021!

The impact of the pandemic

The currently sharply increasing spread of covid-19 in society is very worrying. For all of us, it is now important to take the situation very seriously, in both our private and working life. Last week, the government announced that from November 24, they intend to limit public gatherings to a maximum of 8 people, which is a historic decision. This decision led us to gather the university’s management to assess what we can do further to help limit the spread of infection in society. It is very important that we listen and move in line with the government’s message that the decision should be normative, even if it does not really cover our organization. Therefore, during the remaining part of the autumn semester, there will be a further tightening of the main rule on digital and distance at the University of Gothenburg. This means that we now will do our utmost to avoid presence on campus and, as a general rule, activities that gather more than eight people should not take place on the university’s premises.

It is very important that we listen and move in line with the government’s message that the decision should be normative, even if it does not really cover our organization.

The pandemic will continue to affect society and consequently the university also in 2021. This means that the university will have to adapt and conduct most of its activities digitally and remotely during the spring semester. This was the new policy decision Digitally and at a distance also during the spring term, which I decided on at the beginning of November. A central starting point for the decision is that all decisions we make, at all levels, must be made with the aim that together we should contribute to reducing the spread of infection in society but at the same time maintain quality in what we do. Nobody says it’s easy but it pretty much sums up what we have to relate to. The decision takes into account that regional recommendations such as those currently prevailing in our region, may be added.

Although I like many others feel worried, I feel a great deal of confidence in our organization, which at all levels takes great responsibility, prioritizes and coordinates its activities on a daily basis based on the current advice and restrictions. I have great confidence that the organization will be able to decide what is not possible to implement digitally. Some exceptions are necessary, this may involve some examination, some laboratory work and parts of the artistic education. But we should definitely not have staff meetings or lectures on site that could just as easily have taken place digitally.

The pandemic has required adjustments in the form of renewed working methods in teaching, research and operational support, as the university in a very short time has implemented a major transition to distance education and temporary working from home. The pandemic has posed great challenges for us and will continue to do so. But at the same time, we have had to rethink how we can relate to an increasingly digitalized way of working and this has in my opinion led to great progress in our international collaborations. For example, in our international collaborative projects EUTOPIA and MIRAI, it is my experience that we have not let ourselves be hindered by the fact that it is not possible to meet, but instead gained strength through professionally conducted webinars, frequent meetings and the like. An experience that we will take with us in the future.

Eva Wiberg

Intensive efforts to solve e-mail problems

Since Friday, September 18, the University of Gothenburg has had problems with a majority of employees not being able to access their e-mail, calendar and function mailboxes. This has of course caused great frustration for us as we depend on these tools in our daily work. Perhaps now more than ever, given that the current pandemic has made us even more dependent on communication, summons and meetings taking place digitally.

Intensive work has been being carried out since Friday to address the problems under the direction of the IT unit. In addition, the university management has set up a central crisis management organisation to assist in the work. This work is a top priority of all involved.

I would like to appeal for understanding among employees, students and others who wish to get in touch with us. Please use alternative contact routes such as telephone or digital tools where possible. You can be confident that work is going on 24/7 to solve the problems.

Up-to-date information can be accessed via gu.se and the Staff Portal.

Great commitment and impressive efforts

As you already know, the University of Gothenburg follows the Government’s recommendations and is now switching to remote education and work. Education and examinations will continue to the extent possible, as will research, collaboration and other activities.

Quickly transitioning to a digital way of working involves a major change and requires efforts beyond the ordinary. In some cases, distance learning and digital meetings may already be a natural part of the organisation, in other cases it is more difficult, perhaps not even fully possible to change working methods in such a short time.

As vice-Chancellor, I have a great understanding that the transition places great demand on all employees, while sacrifices of various kinds must also be made in once private life. I am therefore extremely impressed with all employees who have, in different ways supported colleagues and made sure that the organisational work can continue. Not least teachers, administrators and other staff members who have had to address various problems and situations that has arisen. Especially technicians and office cleaners go through great efforts ensuring that the daily operations can continue. The students also take great responsibility by helping each other out.

I am also aware that deans, head of departments and other supervisors have an immense amount of pressure to change the work, inform, and at the same time be extra accessible, patient and encouraging.

In times of crises the organisation is tested in different ways. As vice-chancellor, I am both grateful and moved by the undoubtedness with which staff and students stand up for each other, for the university, and thus also for society at large.

It is not only the various higher educational institutions, but also the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF), who has had to reorganise and create a crisis organisation. Yesterday, 18 March, I participated in a digital meeting with SUHF’s General Assembly, and Matilda Ernkrans, Minister of Higher Education and Research. She told us that she feels confident in the certainty that the higher education institutions are following the Government’s recommendations on distance education to reduce the spread of infection. On various follow-up questions, about this and that, her answer was clear:

Be creative, we can all help out by taking social responsibility.

The Minister also pointed out that the higher education sector should be prepared for long term effects caused by the crisis. It is now important that we document what we do, such as; cancelled or postponed activities, what courses are conducted remotely, and how we do examinations. This is important for the University as a whole, but perhaps especially for the students. They should be able to move on to future work or education and get their study funding, based on a legal and correct management of their efforts. I am convinced that this task, like all other assignments, will be done excellently.

Sustainability and the importance of research

Tokyo from Sophia University

I spent last week in Japan, which began with the annual meeting of STS Forum (Science and Technology in Society Forum). It’s the largest global forum for cooperations and solutions in science and technology, and gathers people from the academy, business world and political world. The purpose is to build networks, and solve long-term social challenges, through open and informal discussions about the possibilities and challenges that originate from science and technology.

Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, opened the forum by declaring that the carbon dioxide emissions have to reach zero by the year 2050. This is a very hard goal to reach, and calls for politicians all over the world to collaborate, and to receive help from science and technology. A current example of how collaboration is necessary is the question of how we should deal with our waste in a sustainable way. This is very actual problem in both Japan and Australia, where the beaches are overflooded with plastic waste from the oceans.

Our Minister for Higher Education and Research, Matilda Ernkrans, also attended the forum, where she participated in a debate on sustainable societies. She emphasised the importance of research and innovation as success factors for Sweden, and that we are one of the best in the world, but that we need to do more. Not least within basic research, which she stated as an important part of Sweden’s chances to effect a sustainable development in society. She also stated that the freedom of research is an important corner stone in this work, and that research that is initiated from the bottom-up is very important. Not least in the struggle against knowledge resistance.

This was the Minister’s first visit abroad, and I think she brought a clear message to the Ministers, Vice-Chancellors, research funders, business people and more at the STS Forum.

As Vice-Chancellor, these first days in Kyoto meant that I got the opportunity to harmonise collaborations with the Vice-Chancellors in our networks, not least those in the Swedish-Japanese collaboration platform MIRAI. After these first meetings with my Vice-Chancellor colleagues, the following visits to the universities in Nagoya, Tokyo and Sophia were even more rewarding and meaningful. Many times, these recognitions, and the follow-up of conversations about joint interests, are the facts that make continued and substantial conversations on collaborations possible.

Nagoya University

The collaboration platform MIRAI is built on a long-term and continuous collaboration that focus on research and innovation. Now, the platform moves on to another stage, when the University of Gothenburg becomes chair. MIRAI is a door-opener to increased collaboration in Japan. For students, Japan is highly interesting, and we focus on universities that have an international profile and provide many courses in English. When I was in Japan, I renewed the University of Gothenburg’s declaration of intent with the highly ranked University of Tokyo. We also signed a new exchange deal with Sophia University in Japan, which makes it possible for all students at the University of Gothenburg, regardless of subject, to apply for an exchange.

President Makoto Gonokami, University of Tokyo