Month: March 2023

SASUF – strong ties

We are currently leading a delegation from Uppsala in South Africa. We are here at a meeting with SASUF and the Sustainability Forum at the University of the Western Cape. SASUF (South Africa – Sweden University Forum) is a strategic internationalisation project uniting 40 partner universities. The aim is to strengthen ties between Sweden and South Africa in the areas of research, education and innovation.

By bringing together leading researchers, teachers, students, university leaders and other stakeholders, the project will develop common solutions to the challenges highlighted in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda.

The collaborations have been successful so far.

  • We have brought together 3,000+ researchers, students, university leaders and funding bodies through seminars and workshops.
  • We have funded 70 international collaboration projects (linked to the Sustainable Development Goals).
  • joint declaration on the relationship between research and education among the countries was drawn up by the participating universities during the second Research & Innovation week in 2019. The declaration has been submitted to the ministers of higher education and research in both countries.
  • The SASUF Student Network has been established and consists of appointed student representatives from each partner university.

Here is my opening speech at the conference that is currently under way:

Colleagues and friends!

I have a special place for South Africa in my heart, and every time I come here I gain new perspectives on life. You see, my wife comes from this country and we are in fact sitting in her Alma Mater right now. She has taught me a lot about life here during Apartheid – about the system, about forces for good and about people’s struggles. Life here is quite different from back home in Sweden. Here people come and visit, stay over, have lunch, dinner, and then stay a little longer. In Sweden everything is scheduled. Sometimes when we are at our home here we receive a special visitor. This man fascinates me.  He is something of a genius. He has a knack for solving complicated problems with limited means. This does not mean he finds simple or sloppy solutions. On the contrary, he can create something beautiful and impressive using things that others have discarded.

One time we were sitting and discussing solar panels. He had read up on the area, and thanks to my many years in that sector I could quickly see that he knew what he was talking about. Inverters, conversion efficiency ­– it was all clear to him, and using parts from this and that he had succeeded in putting together a functioning, battery-run solar panel installation that powered the lights in his house.

I think about him from time to time. Sometimes I think he could well have been a professor or research leader if he had gotten the chance. Or perhaps having access to resources would have made him less creative. It’s hard to say.

Throughout my life, I have been most creative in situations where we have been given clear and exacting requirements, when I have been part of a group that identified shared goals and then jointly tried to solve the Gordian Knot created by the problem in question.

As I said ­­– everything in Sweden is scheduled, ordered and clearly defined. This can be good, but it also boxes us in and narrows the options. We need to see the world through other people’s eyes sometimes. To open our minds. Working together is a great way of achieving this. 

And it seems you all agree. 

In the last few years, collaboration between South Africa and Sweden has grown tremendously. SASUF has played a key role in this development. What makes this collaboration stand out is the amazing commitment from the participants in both countries. 

Just this week, more than 80 workshops are taking place across South Africa, all of which have been organised from the bottom up by students, researchers, and teachers who share the conviction that collaboration is key to our future prosperity. It’s heartening to see such enthusiasm and dedication to building a better future for all.

I’m particularly impressed with the SASUF Student Network, which comprises almost 800 students. This week, they’ve organised satellite events and will be hosting a student summit here at the University of the Western Cape. Their hard work and dedication are truly commendable, and they’re all involved in shaping a better future for students in both countries and globally.

But it doesn’t end there. 

The SASUF conference is also a place to meet new colleagues and develop new ideas for research. Countless projects have been initiated as a result of this forum. With poster sessions and workshops on topics like antibiotic resistance, preventing childhood malnutrition, beekeeping, public transport, and many more, there are plenty of opportunities to explore new partnerships over the coming days.

The strong relationship between our two countries rests today on a foundation of mutual trust, collaboration and exchange. SASUF brings us together to discuss and tackle the challenges facing the world today. By working together, we can build a brighter future for all.

The multi-dimensional University

I would like to say, personally, how fantastic it is to have a university with such a diversity of disciplines and expertise. This was actually what made it possible for me to start out in what became my life’s work. I had studied Egyptology with Rostislav Holthoer at Gustavianum. I knew our Egyptological collections contained thousands of mummies. At the Tandem Accelerator Lab, they were able to determine the age of my samples. I learned molecular biology at the Wallenberg Lab with Per Pettersson, who was at the forefront of the technologies that emerged in the 1980s. All this within fifteen minutes’ walk. This is what makes a full-scale university like this so unique, an environment that makes things possible that would otherwise have been impossible.

Svante Pääbo’s spontaneous vote of thanks at lunch in the Hall of State on the day of his lecture in the Grand Auditorium during Nobel Week has stayed in my mind ever since.

The unique environment he talks about, the way that everything is close at hand and that we can move from one world-leading research setting to another in a quarter of an hour, is quite incredible, after all. Svante Pääbo had the good sense to make the most of this, to bring together expertise from several different fields, which ultimately led to findings that changed our view and understanding of evolution.

Specialisation is important, but every specialisation, every centre of excellence and disciplinary niche, needs to reflect on its position in the wider context. Not all the time, but every now and then, we need to look up and look around.

It was in this spirit that we held a Vice-Chancellor’s seminar in the Humanities Theatre the other week. The seminar was led by Claes Fredrik Helgesson from the Centre for Integrated Research on Culture and Society (CIRCUS) and many good points came up. The panel consisted of Lisa Ekselius, Women’s Mental Health during the Reproductive Lifespan (WOMHER); Erik Melander, Alva Myrdal Centre for Nuclear Disarmament; Linda Wedlin, Democracy and Higher Education; and Linus Sandegren, Uppsala Antibiotic Center. Individually and in conversation, they raised their experiences and offered intelligent insights into ways of thinking along less discipline-bound lines and focusing more on the need to find solutions, irrespective of organisational affiliation. It was an exciting, inspiring, appetite-whetting seminar. Several participants even questioned the very possibility of working in any other way when the task is to tackle societal challenges. Warm thanks to everyone who took part. I personally will continue to think about obstacles hindering interdisciplinarity.

One such obstacle that was mentioned during the seminar and that several people have brought up is that we have an economic system characterised by inflexible funding and distribution of resources. This inflexibility affects both students who want to take a course that suits them better at another department, and researchers who need to be borrowed or participate in collaboration and who happen to work at another faculty.

How do we avoid excessive administration? What is required for departments to be able to benefit from collaboration on equal terms?

However, we are not the only ones who need to look up and look around. This applies to politics as well. It will soon be time for the research bill and time for us at the University to submit our input and views. We intend to continue to stress the importance of direct government funding. Funding and the right to set our own priorities are fundamental to academic freedom. In our submission we will criticise the compensation we receive for education (the ‘price tags’), which has been eroded to such an extent that we now cannot give students who are eager to learn enough face-to-face education. The educational factory is as lean as it can possibly be and this is not right – with respect to our students, our principles, or the future.

Here we need to explain that real knowledge and transmission of knowledge require time. The time may also have come to distinguish more clearly between the roles of different actors in higher education in Sweden. As a research university, we have a special role and function for those who want to continue from undergraduate to more advanced education. We must maintain this role.

I would also like to emphasise the cohesion of a university, the way in which the parts contribute to the whole.

At this juncture, it feels as if the prospects of a positive response are quite favourable. My impression when Minister for Education Mats Persson last visited us was that we seemed to agree about the importance of long-term basic research for creating knowledge about things we currently know nothing about at all.

It appears to me that we have a duty to clarify in our submission that Uppsala University, with its research and education, is a single entity. Small injections of targeted money are not really what we want. We face the task of enlightening the government about the University as a coherent whole and promoting awareness about our work and our outlook.

Like Pääbo, I consider that our strength lies in our open-doors approach to education. It is this that puts our University in a unique position to be fantastic. We must highlight this in our input to the research bill.

Interesting days in Visby

Vice-Chancellor Anders Hagfeldt and Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor Olle Jansson holding a presentation.

There was a meeting of the Management Council on Gotland yesterday. Most of us got up early in the morning, arriving in a blustery, wintry Gotland after a brief delay. The theme of the day was the new organisation and the opportunities we envisage for Campus Gotland. Discussions got going straight away.

Roughly one year ago, an inquiry by Professor Mats Edenius was released concerning how Campus Gotland could be developed into an even stronger part of our huge University. In his inquiry, he notes that there is major potential in certain areas and that more profiling is needed. We at the University Management have taken on board the contents of the inquiry and drawn up a proposal for how we envisage the organisation. We presented a timetable for all staff who were interested and held meetings in both larger and smaller groups.

There were also lively discussions involving the region’s representatives, who were our final meeting of the day.

The discussions involved critical issues and some frustration, but the perception was that strong commitment and creative ideas about the future were the dominant features.

After a long day, I can say that it is always fascinating and enjoyable to visit Gotland and that it feels as if we have created a solid platform on which to build following the initial ten successful years. I would like to thank everyone who took the time to listen, reflect and discuss. After all, it is through dialogue that we find value in the creative ideas we produce and the challenges we face.