Last week ended with a beautiful inauguration of our new professors in the Concert Hall in Gothenburg. It’s truly a privilege, dressed in the Vice-Chancellor’s gown and chain, to inaugurate our new professors. At the same time, we also highlight our pedagogical role models that have received the pedagogical prizes, and the excellent teacher award.
This year we introduced a new feature, with short films that presented the researchers in their environment and everyday life, and we got an insight in their commitment to their field. The ceremony became livelier, and to my understanding it was a much-appreciated feature. This way of renewing and reinventing traditions characterises my view of the University of Gothenburg.
A very warm thank you to all people involved in making this beautiful tradition a memorable ceremony.
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.
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.
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.
Today our government revealed the new ministers and among them some new names were announced. Within the higher education area, we listened even more attentively when the new minister for Higher Education and Research was revealed. Helene Hellmark Knutsson (S) is stepping down and our new minister is called Matilda Ernkrans. Congratulations to an exciting position, Matilda!
We have a number of important issues to talk about, and my hope is that I and my colleagues have the opportunity to meet soon. You probably have a new commission waiting on your desk. We are of course very interested in how you and the new government will deal with the Control and Resources Commission (Strut). At the University of Gothenburg, we work knowingly to increase internationalisation and are eager to match the national strategy for internationalisation.
We work continuously with cooperation, research impact, and our role in society; at the same time questions about academic freedom are in focus. Certain research has been a weapon in the current debate and the discourse is getting more and more heated. Within the academia we want everybody to express themselves freely, we are always open to criticism, we like a good debate, and we are used to defending our case. But we also have to stand up for academic freedom, to secure a respectful discourse and we should never accept threats and hatred.
We’d like very much to talk about these issues with you. I want to take the opportunity to invite you to Gothenburg. You are very welcome to learn more about our university’s prerequisites, challenges and possibilities. Let’s take a fika and openly discuss matters such as open access, the possibilities of digitalisation, research infrastructures, widening participation, research ethics, teacher education attractiveness, equality, quality assessment systems …
On Wednesday we signed an agreement to join a new university network, called Eutopia. With us the new alliance consists of six European universities. The network was initiated by the British University of Warwick together with the French University Paris Seine and the Belgian Vrije Universiteit Brussel. This November, the Slovenian University of Ljubljana joined, and will now coordinate the alliance. It was during this fall that we, together with Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, got the invite to join the alliance.
The cooperation is a strong alliance and one of the main goals is to respond to the European Commission’s appeal to create strategic co-operations between European higher education institutions.
All of the institutions in the alliance have a strong focus when it comes to quality driven research and education, and together we cover a broad geographic scope all over Europe. The joining institutions will take lead in particular areas, but we will all contribute in some way to all areas. The work will have focus on students and have an inclusive approach. This will take a more distinct form in the near future, and I’ll have reason to return to the matters.
The European Commission’s appeal has also resulted in a call for applications within the programme Erasmus + which is called European Universities Initiative. It has focus on student mobility and increased quality and competitiveness in higher education in Europe, and our new alliance has started working on an application. Regardless of the outcome, our participation will teach us a lot about how the commission’s coming programme within the area will look like.
I want to emphasise that this is an important strengthening of our already existing networks and collaborations. I’m convinced that, which you already know by now, to maintain the quality and competitiveness of our university, we need to put our focus on internationalisation from different perspectives, to lay a global jigsaw is one way to put it. Different pieces of the jigsaw can have different purposes.
I wish that a large part of our students and employees in different ways will make the most of the possibilities, to find that piece that fits, and participate in the international collaborations in the future.
Last week, I attended a conference in Siena on the topic of how academia and diplomacy can work together in connection with international crises. The conference was arranged by the European Association of International Studies (AESI) and gave a clear message to students, scholars and the public of how universities, with their research, education and engaged students, can help contribute to peace, human rights, gender equality and sustainability in a rapidly changing world.
AESI organises seminars and conferences to facilitate discussions between the university world and international diplomacy. The former is considered to represent objectivity and unbiased research while the role of the latter is to stimulate dialogue and agreements between states and governments.
The issues discussed at the conference include how the EU despite all the problems can and must remain a peace-promoting actor, no matter what happens. The situation on the Mediterranean Sea and in the Middle East was also discussed. We talked about how universities can help diplomats reach an impact in politically difficult areas.
In my speech, I mentioned some of our University’s outstanding contributions of relevance within the framework of the conference, such as the V-Dem Institute, the QoG Institute and the Centre for Collective Action Research (CeCar).
I’m convinced that universities have a unique possibility to reach out and find feasible paths where diplomacy may not always be successful. It may be easier for us to achieve an impact through collaboration in research and education, which is necessary in order to be able to implement diplomatic solutions. Our obvious role is to contribute knowledge and correct information. But academia can serve as a door opener and improve the potential of diplomacy.
This year’s Almedalen Week and the West Swedish Arena, co-hosted by the University of Gothenburg, have now started. This time, we have focused our seminars around the role of universities in society. I was unfortunately not able to make it to the University’s first seminar – Tvärvetenskap är framtiden, men hänger universiteten med? (‘Interdisciplinarity is the future, but are the universities keeping up?). It was organised by Mistra Urban Futures and, luckily for me, it was filmed and is available online. The discussion was based on the sustainability goals in Agenda 2030 and on the Swedish Higher Education Authority’s evaluation from 2017 of how well Swedish higher education institutions provide education about sustainable development, which found that only one quarter of the evaluated universities covered this area well enough. Although our University was one of those that received a passing grade, I do realise that more can be done. During the seminar, Louise Jansson, coordinator of student participation in the University’s sustainability work, pointed out that Swedish universities could become more innovative and create structures for tighter links between education and practice. I agree completely with her point that students should not merely be seen as consumers of education but also as important actors in society and producers of knowledge.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Olof Palme’s first Alemdalen address, given from the back of a lorry. 2018 is an election year in Sweden, which will most likely add some heat to the week in Visby. At least when it comes to the debates and speeches that will be held. Other than that, the weather has been a bit chilly, despite the abundant sunshine.
I have several expectations of this year’s Almedalen Week. I’m looking forward to hearing what other people have to say about the role of universities in society. I have never felt a greater need than now to actively participate in the public debate, where our research can contribute to new perspectives and solutions. And doing so is fully in line with one of our most fundamental tasks, namely to reach out to and collaborate with other actors for the benefit of society. The Almedalen Week is a great arena for reaching out with research communication.
I also expect many informal discussions and exciting meetings. Despite a rather intense seminar programme, I consider the week in Almedalen a refreshing break from the everyday work at home and an opportunity to get a healthy injection of thoughts and ideas in preparation for the autumn semester. For me, the week will be a nice transition from the intense daily routines and tight schedule at the University to my more relaxed summer calendar. What I mean is that the Almedalen Week offers an opportunity for reflection, unrestricted thinking and a few days of collecting various perspectives and ideas that will then be left to marinate during my days off later in the summer. Later on, after the summer, my thoughts from Almedalen will be used as fertiliser in my work with plans, directives and projects.
I plan to attend several of the University’s seminars. And I particularly look forward to the Swedish Research Council’s seminar Hur kan vi främja vetenskapens bidrag till samhällets utveckling? (‘How can we promote the contribution of science to the development of society?’) and the Association of Swedish Higher Education’s ditto titled Var går gränsen för vad vi bör forska om? (‘What are the limits of what we should do research on?’). In addition, we will of course get to hear more about higher education policy and the Swedish government’s inquiry on the governance of and resource allocation to Swedish higher education within the framework of several seminars.
Today was the Moderates’ day in Almedalen and the West Swedish Arena opened its doors.