Author: Anders Hagfeldt (Page 1 of 2)

Response to Svenska Dagbladet

Right to take security issues seriously – Tove Lifvendahl

(SvD 2023-05-10)

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.

Anders Hagfeldt


Uppsala University

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.

Welcome back

The semester is under way, the students are here and we have an exciting spring ahead of us. We certainly have plenty to look forward to. In just over a week, on 25 January, Morten Meldal – 2022 Nobel laureate in chemistry – will give a lecture at Uppsala Biomedical Centre. On the same day, the nineteenth Hugo Valentin Lecture takes place. This time, the speaker is Renée Poznanski, Professor Emerita of History at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, who will address the topic: “Survival During the Occupation: Did the French People Save the Jews?”

Two days later, on 27 January, we will celebrate advances in knowledge and scholarly methods. I am referring, of course, to the Winter Conferment Ceremony, which we will be celebrating once again after a break of several years (because of the pandemic). Ahead of the ceremony, several honorary doctors will lecture, also on 25 January, by the way. You see how it is, and this is just looking at two days in January. My advice is: keep an eye on the events listings. At this great University of ours, there’s always something going on. Be there, take part, be constructive, be enthusiastic, get involved. Welcome to a new year at Uppsala University.

Happy Holidays!

The autumn is over, winter is here, Lucia has come and gone, Christmas and New Year will soon be upon us. Time flies when you’re having fun, as they say, and looking back on the past year it has unquestionably been an exciting year full of developments and events at our broad University.

It started in a rather unfamiliar way in the aftermath of the pandemic. We were suddenly able to do all those things that had been impossible for so long. Our talented and ambitious students could return to their studies on campus and to the rich student life traditionally on offer at Uppsala University. At last we could celebrate 30 April and never have so many thronged to Carolina Hill. It was wonderful to be able to meet up, though people’s expectations of the new normal inevitably varied. Many have continued to work from home some days, others are back on site full-time. We have also started to travel again, but have learned that electronic tools mean we often don’t have to. The threat of climate change looms and as a University we have an important role to play, through education and research. At the same time, political developments give cause for concern. Russia’s war against Ukraine is constantly on our minds and calls for our attention and commitment. Change can come abruptly on the playing field of life.

Here on our home turf we have done many interesting and important things. For example, we have inaugurated the Alva Myrdal Centre, New Ångström, the Precision Medicine Centre Uppsala, HERO, and Democracy and Higher Education. We have celebrated the heritage of Celsius and Skytte and resumed the observance of Rudbeck Day, conferred doctoral degrees and inaugurated professors, created several new competence centres, continued to build on our strengths and discussed the future – from visions to practice. The analysis of Campus Gotland’s future role in the region and within our University has been completed. Now it’s time for us to consider and put visions and plans into practice.

In recent weeks, we have had distinguished visitors in the shape of Nobel laureates. We had the privilege of three days of lectures of the highest calibre from international leaders in their fields. Visitors flocked in particular to the lecture by our alumnus Svante Pääbo on Saint Lucia’s Day.

Summing up, we can safely say we’ve been busy and a glance at the calendar reveals that next year looks set to follow a similar pattern. We will have to wait and see how things turn out, but with the present already rushing into the future, it will be up to us to make the best of whatever comes.

We are full of confidence, knowing what a fantastic University we work at. It is fascinating and inspiring to realise what we can achieve by everyone’s combined efforts – students and staff together.

We meet again in 2023, with renewed energy. Until then, look after yourselves!

Anders Hagberg, Vice-Chancellor
Coco Norén, Deputy Vice-Chancellor
Caroline Sjöberg, University Director

Internationalisation with a focus on Africa

Our University undertakes major international initiatives. We collaborate with universities across the globe, and our Mission, Goals and Strategies highlights internationalisation and the need to be open to students and researchers from all over the world. Amidst tough competition, Uppsala University wants to recruit the very best and enrich the University with other nationalities’ experiences and perspectives. This vision was formalised last week through a decision on the Forum for Africa Studies. The decision will entail a new venture and a broadened scope that will transform its activities into a resource for the entire University. Funding will be provided for five years with the intention to:

  • coordinate and highlight research on and involving Africa at Uppsala University
  • establish and coordinate a graduate school for Africa Studies
  • promote Africa Studies programmes and courses at Bachelor’s and Master’s level
  • establish and coordinate strategic partnerships, projects and programmes with African universities

The venture is also strongly in line with developments in The Guild, which our University co-founded. This network, which brings together some of Europe’s leading universities, is tasked with highlighting the role of academics in the EU. This involves discussions of conditions, infrastructures, funding and distribution.

The University of Cape Town (UCT) recently hosted a high-level delegation of 16 vice-chancellors from Africa’s leading research universities and 15 European university leaders. The first time a meeting of this nature takes place in Africa. Photo: Lerato Maduna

The Guild has now launched a collaboration with ARUA – a sister network promoting Africa. At a meeting in Cape Town, we agreed to focus on the creation of focus areas, or Clusters of Excellence. The idea is for universities on both of our continents to participate on equal terms in joint research and educational ventures. The areas in which Uppsala will be investing have not yet been fully established.

The management notes that networks of this type have the greatest impact at the University when they fulfil a concrete need at departmental level. The more closely involved in activities they are, the greater the benefit. Those that are not are easily perceived as ‘top-down’ and largely administrative constructions. We have work to do in terms of promoting this initiative, but there is also a need to have a discussion about the networks into which the University is to invest its resources. These efforts have also begun.  

Worrying situation in Iran

The protests in Iran are continuing and we are concerned about the situation of our colleagues and students at universities in the country. The origins of the escalating protests in Iran lie in the detention of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Jîna Amini, by the morality police in Tehran. According to the police, she was not wearing her headscarf correctly. The violent treatment in connection with her detention led to the young woman’s death and in solidarity many people are now manifesting their dissatisfaction with the violence, the regime and the coercion.

Uppsala University supports the peaceful protests. We will always stand firm in our values, affirming the equal value of all people, freedom of expression and democracy.

The protests have been met with violence and the use of tear gas and live ammunition. The University of Tehran is reportedly closed and the situation appears to be deteriorating. Our thoughts are with those at risk. Together with all universities in Sweden we have declared through the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions that we expect freedom of choice and freedom of expression for our Iranian friends and a peaceful democratic development. Anything else is unacceptable.

Welcome PEN International

Authors such as George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrison – I could name many more – have given us terrifying portrayals of what can happen to people when their freedom of expression, be it written or spoken, is taken away. The reason that their stories affect people so deeply is likely that the fiction is unnervingly close to the truth. We are only ever a handful of wrong decisions away from seeing the authors’ dystopia become reality. The books they write simultaneously hold up a mirror and sound a warning. They implore us to safeguard our freedom and never take it for granted.

Article 19 of the UN’S Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

This is how we want things to be and how things should be everywhere, but unfortunately reality is not always the way it should be. People are persecuted, threatened, imprisoned and tortured because of the opinions and statements they utter. Regimes try to silence those who write critically. The Belarusian Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich was recently accused of extremism, while Salman Rushdie was attacked on a stage during a lecture on 12 August. There are many frightening examples.

Uppsala University plays an important role as a counterweight to censorship, ignorance and looking inwards. A congress arranged by PEN is getting under way today. The worldwide association of writers (PEN originally stood for Poets, Essayists, Novelists) aims to promote friendship and intellectual exchange between writers; to emphasise the role of literature in the development of mutual understanding and world culture; to fight for freedom of expression; and to defend writers who are oppressed, imprisoned and sometimes killed for their views. PEN is also the oldest human rights organisation and the oldest international literary organisation in the world. The congress brings together visitors from across the globe, and I am proud and delighted that we can offer our wonderful premises for the congress as a practical contribution to the defence of democracy and freedom of expression.

I would like to extend a warm welcome PEN and all of its members to Uppsala and our University.

The programme for the public parts of the congress can be found here.

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