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

Climate framework increases ambition

The last week has been dominated by the global climate strike, a week of activities initiated by the climate movement “Fridays for Future”. We know that many employees and students are deeply committed and have planned to participate in these manifestations in some way.

As a University, we have a very important role to play in the work with the climate issue, and the University of Gothenburg has for a long time had high goals in its sustainability and environmental work. Our foremost contributions are within our core activities: our research and our education.

But we can also make contributions in our own activities and improve them according to the climate goals. In line with that, it’s suiting to disclose that I yesterday made the decision that the University of Gothenburg should sign the Climate Framework initiated by Chalmers School of Technology and KTH.

The Climate Framework describes how higher education institutions should adjust to the climate change with the aim to achieve the 1,5 degrees target. Before summer, they called on more universities to join, and I initiated an internal review to investigate whether the University should join or not. The investigation showed that there was a broad agreement among responding faculties and student unions, as well as within the central administration, that the university should join. It carries more weight when the entire organisation backs this, since the measures required to manage climate change will impact us all. For that reason, it was important for me to secure broad support for the Climate Framework internally, so that our efforts do not end up being just a signature.

Caption: Raymond Samo, chair of GUS, and Eva Wiberg on 26 September 2019, at the decision to join the Climate Framework

We are already the Swedish University that makes most efforts within the sustainability area. We have for a number of years ranked high in the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency ranking of Swedish authorities’ environmental work. And we want to be the best in Europe. The Climate Framework will be a clear driving force in our work. We will integrate our goals and necessary measures with our environmental management system. Together with our faculties, we will also need to identify within which areas we need to increase our efforts and reduce our footprint.

I have also expressed a wish to improve the possibilities to disseminate research connected to the climate and sustainability. If we, as advocates for the academy and for research, can be better in making ourselves heard and reaching out with climate related research, I want us to do that. Today, many of our research news are already related to the climate and sustainability, and we offer our expertise to the media via our expert list in these subjects. Today, it’s also Researchers’ Night, and many of our climate researchers are fully booked.

Like many others, I’m also deeply moved by Greta Thunberg’s speech, anger and commitment. When she says that we should listen to the researchers, I don’t just want to agree. I want us to do more, together.

Eva Wiberg

Bryssel, brexit and the European agenda

All of a sudden, the summer is behind us and we are well on our way into a new semester. New and old students have arrived and they bring life to both Gothenburg and the University’s premises. It’s easy to go back to familiar habits again, don’t you agree?

Last week, I visited the Vice-Chancellor’s meeting in Brussels. Almost 60 Vice-Chancellors from the Nordic countries met to get information about what’s happening now with the new parliament and commission after the EU election last spring.

The discussions in Brussels are of course marked by the insecurities around Brexit. Through media we can follow and be fascinated by the sometimes dramatic gestures by different parties. Beyond tough quotings such as “I’d rather be dead in a ditch”, many member countries have large concerns about what’s going to happen. We had the opportunity to listen to a brief review by Georg Riekels, advisor and member of the group that are negotiating the exit. The discussions and questions were to a large part about Brexit’s influence on our collaborations in research and education. There are many insecurities on how the collaborations between the countries will continue in the future. What we know today, is that the British government has made a guarantee that existing collaborations will continue to 31 December 2020, hard Brexit or not. The outgoing general secretary in the European Council, Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, gave us the broader picture of the European collaboration. Apart from Brexit, there are some difficult challenges in Europe, and at the meeting in Brussels a new strategic agenda for 2019 – 2024 was presented. The strategic agenda focuses on four main priorities:

  • protecting citizens and freedoms
  • developing a strong and vibrant economic base
  • building a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe
  • promoting European interests and values on the global stage

An immediate challenge is also Brexit. Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen stated that we are no longer the leading group in the world. From a global perspective, we are a collection of small and medium-sized countries that need to unite and work together. Most of us in the Nordic delegation shared that picture. International collaboration is considered crucial, and not only The University of Gothenburg has a clear focus on this in upcoming efforts.

Eva Wiberg

Greetings from Almedalen

Eva Wiberg and Mattias Goksör in Almedalen 2019

The University of Gothenburg is in Almedalen to participate in many seminars, ours and others. As media has reported, there are fewer activities and seminars this year’s week, compared to the all-time high last year. But maybe that figure doesn´t tell us much, since this year is the third largest week in size since the start of Almedalen week 51 years ago.

For us, focus is on contributing with research, knowledge and content that can be the basis for political decisions or development in our society and the world. In the planning for our participation this week, we decided that our shared seminars would focus on some of the important issues that concern people today. Since we are a broad university, we also want to express that in the Västsvenska Arenan’s programme.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor Mattias Goksör’s and I had prepared some tactics for this week, and that was to visit a range of seminars to bring back different ideas and approaches to our work. Mattias has, for instance, visited a number of seminars covering the AI area. One of these seminars was held at Västsvenska Arenan, and can be seen on their Facebook page (in Swedish): Sweden should be best in the world to utilise AI, but how do we deal with AI ethics? During the seminar, AI was described as something that continuously are moving boundaries and pushing us forward. The seminars concerning AI has this year often pointed out the importance that directors and leaders have an understanding on how their organisations are affected by AI.

Many meetings, discussions and round table conversations are happening here in Almedalen, and it is a fantastic opportunity to listen actively to one another and to hear what others have to say. The Vice-Chancellors have a reoccurring occasion to meet at a Vice-Chancellor’s breakfast organised by UKÄ (Swedish Higher Education Authority) and SUHF (The Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions). The big topic this year was the reports that are to be sent to the Government’s research bill, and this issue has been recurrent during many of the seminars that I have visited. We have noticed that the Government hasn’t taken the question of research infrastructure into enough consideration. Other important areas of the bill are the need for research about professional education and training, particularly for schools and prospect teachers. This was highlighted in the seminar (in Swedish) “Sweden as a Knowledge Nation – How do we strengthen the school system’s scientific foundation and the desirability to become a teacher” .

Today, University West organised the intriguing seminar “Can you say whatever you like within academia?”, where two of our employees participated as a moderator and a panellist: Ulf Dalnäs, Head of Department at HDK, and Marie Demker, Dean at the Faculty of Arts and a professor in Political Science. Martin Hellström, Vice-Chancellor at University West, and Erik J Olsson, Chair of Academic Rights Watch, also participated. The panel raised different threats and risks that the academic freedom stands before, such as how the Vice-Chancellors are appointed, and threats that affect researchers. Interesting, and maybe controversial, viewpoints were presented, and worth watching if you missed.

The Higher Education political debate in Almedalen mostly takes place at the SUHF seminars. Today, the most well-visited was a political debate about the question “Do the Swedish Higher Education need a large reorganisation?”, which was visited by our minister for higher education and research Matilda Ernkrans (S). She emphasised the need for both a short term, but also a long term, planning when it comes to the higher education institutions’ task to contribute with competence to the Swedish labour market.

Debate in Almedalen 2019

Many meetings remain in Almedalen, but after that it is time for a few weeks of recuperation. I therefore take the opportunity to wish you all a pleasant and relaxing summer leave!

Eva Wiberg

From Bologna 1999 to Eutopia 2019

The twentieth anniversary of the Bologna declaration. Photo: Marie Lowrie

At a conference in Bologna this week, I participated in the 20th anniversary of the Bologna process with 170 Vice-Chancellors from 80 countries, and a number of other delegates.

Nowadays, many students or teachers don’t know that much about what occurred in 1999, when the EU ratified the Bologna declaration. The turn of the millennium was about to happen, and we had hopes (and perhaps some fears) that the approaching digitalisation would make us connected in a way we had never seen before: mobile phones, computers, the world wide web, internet banks – all seemed possible.

We may not think it’s all that extraordinary today, but in 1999, the idea of an open university system, where students could study outside their own university without having to worry that their education would not be recognised when they returned home, was not a certainty. In fact, it isn’t even so today. But in 1999, the first EU decision on shared rules and regulations was made. Sweden had some adjustments to do, but in 2007 we changed the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees systems, and we joined the Bologna process.

In 2019, the Bologna declaration celebrates its 20th anniversary, and the Bologna system is facing a new chapter. The conference began with a ceremonial academic procession in the Vice-Chancellor’s gown (in a 35°C temperature) from Arciginnasio, the original University building, to Palazzo Re Enzo, at the Piazza Maggiore. The University of Bologna’s Vice-Chancellor Francesco Ubertini, reminded us about the student’s important role in the education system. The first Vice-Chancellors at the University of Bologna—the world’s first university—were students who were appointed by the students themselves.

At the conference, we stated that it was time to take the next step towards a more inclusive and sustainable Bologna system. The system needs to open up to a society that is digitalised, takes on the global challenges, and focus on a student-centred learning. Some of the students pointed out that: “Don’t teach where we are, teach where we will be.”

We also discussed how employability not only can be seen as the achievement of specific learning goals, but also needs to be seen as social competence, innovative thinking, ability to realise projects, language competence, and so on. A lot of common interests are included in life-long learning.

Agneta Bladh, the Government’s investigator of the internationalisation report that was completed this year, pointed out the importance of looking at the Commission’s effort on Erasmus+ and the European Universities Networks (EUN) as an expansion of the Bologna process. This involves a broader collaboration, which affects both students and employees, development of different curricula, innovation, an inclusive attitude towards the society around us, and an effort on Agenda 2030.

It seems suitable now to mention that the University of Gothenburg scooped one of the EUN projects as a member of the alliance Eutopia, the day after the Bologna process. Congratulations to all of us. We now have the opportunity to work long term for a more inclusive collaboration in education.

The Chair of the European Student’s Union, Adam Gajeks, had a interesting conclusion in Bologna: “Higher education is a Human Right.” Let’s see how we handle his, and other important ideas, in the Bologna system the upcoming 20 years.

Today, Almedalen week has started. This means interesting seminars, new knowledge, and, hopefully, many rewarding meetings for me and the many University employees that are participating.


Tradition in new vestments

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.

Inauguration of our new professors 2019 Photo: Johan Wingborg

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.

More pictures from the ceremony here

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 (GU.se)

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