Right to take security issues seriously – Tove Lifvendahl
In her leader on 10 May, Tove Lifvendahl expresses support for the Swedish government and for the approach taken by Minister for Education Mats Persson to security problems at Swedish universities. The leader gives the impression that the universities have acted ingenuously and naively and concludes that “Swedish public authorities, including universities and other higher education institutions, must improve their control over what and who is allowed in.”
While Tove Lifvendahl is right about the importance of taking security issues seriously, I object strenuously to the suggestion that Swedish higher education institutions are naive. International contacts are assessed on a case-by-case basis. Where collaboration is at issue, inquiries are made and references taken to ensure that academic collaborations are indeed based on an academic and scholarly foundation. If there is any uncertainty, we seek assistance from the Swedish Security Service and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in making our assessment.
However, this is not the main point of the debate. The issue concerns the government’s meddling in the make-up of university governing boards. In a democracy, academic freedom – the freedom for academia to manage its own business – is fundamental. The arms length principle applies. In the model we have in Sweden, the universities receive instructions in their appropriation directions. The government’s intentions – which Lifvendahl perceives as good – have detrimental consequences. That is why all universities and other higher education institutions are critical. Moreover, it would have been appropriate to mention that the agreements that Uppsala University entered into, to which the leader refers, were discontinued after information came to light showing the existence of security policy issues. These agreements were entered into after the government had explicitly expressed a desire for more collaboration with China, among others. Academic freedom comes with academic responsibility. That is something we will always uphold.