Author: Anders Hagfeldt (Page 1 of 2)

No place for informers in academia

A proposed new law – an ‘informers act’ – has provoked debate. The discussion stems from the Ministry of Justice’s Inquiry on reinforcing return operations (Ju 2022:12) and the supplementary terms of reference for the inquiry (Dir. 2023:126) that were issued in August. There is widespread indignation: many public employees in Sweden interpret the proposal to mean that they will be forced to take on police roles that they neither can, wish to nor should play. As Vice-Chancellor, I wish to take a firm stand against the proposal. No one at our University must be called upon to suspect or to inform against anyone. For us in academia, the very thought of questioning people’s right to join in the academic conversation is alien. It is against our basic principles, against our very being.

By definition, a university is a meeting place for thoughts born of curiosity and a zeal for knowledge. Though we accept national borders, we gladly work across them. Our goals are about understanding reality, spreading knowledge, strengthening democracy and increasing international cooperation and openness. Universities and other higher education institutions are mindful of security and cooperate with public authorities, but we are not policing or judicial actors. A law such as the proposed act risks leading to certain categories of students and employees being permanently under suspicion. We are not willing to go along with this.

Furthermore, at Uppsala University there are research projects in progress involving individuals who lack residence permits. The research concerns matters such as these people’s health, belief in the future, legal status, family situation and progress towards integration in society. All such research would become impossible if the legislative proposal becomes a reality. This in turn would mean that all measures to support and improve the lives of this vulnerable group would suffer.

As academics, our roles lie within research and teaching. For practical and pragmatic reasons, universities have become public authorities, but all public authorities have different mandates. The universities must maintain their particular identity and can never be reduced to mere authorities. Those of us who work at universities and other higher education institutions cannot and should not check up on our students’ or employees’ legal status, nor do we have any desire to do so. There is a public authority – the Swedish Police – whose role is policing. Let them do their job and let other authorities do theirs. That is a good arrangement.

Visit from Hallym University

For a few days this week, we have the pleasure of welcoming a delegation from Hallym University. Over the course of more than a decade, we have developed a close relationship with this university in South Korea in the field of medicine. Now we are discussing broadening our outlook. Today, Wednesday, our conversations have revolved around AI in health and medical care. 

Here are a few pictures from the visit, which also give me the opportunity to express my sincere thanks to everyone who has helped look after our international guests and give our discussions on scholarly collaboration a distinct Uppsala feel.

Foto: Marcus Holmqvist/Kommunikationsavdelningen

Don’t close to the door to international research

The international engagements of Swedish universities are currently being jeopardised by government policy. In December, an announcement was made regarding a halt in research funding, and on June 27 the Swedish Research Council announced that the government had changed its appropriation directions in such a way that the Council can no longer allocate funding as part of the call for development research. The decisions will strike a blow to successful and vital research, as well as our international collaborations and Sweden’s status as a research nation. They will also have a negative effect on both our competitiveness and growth over the long term.

For a small country like Sweden, whose prosperity is dependent upon international trade and collaboration within the EU, international research collaborations are a necessity. This perspective is self-evident, and it is therefore unsurprising that there have been many reactions to the government’s decision. Despite this, among the general public the first debate about funding was partly drowned out by the heated discussions about how the government wants to increase control over university boards as part of efforts to strength its security policy. In my view, these decisions are connected by a short-term perspective, and ignorance appears to be blocking properly considered decisions.

Firstly, the government decided to cut aid. Perhaps political signalling became more important than concern for the research collaborations covered by the funding. Whatever the case, it is lamentable because these collaborations, developed over a long period, have been established based on the insight that our solutions and problems are connected to those of others – just as is often highlighted in the debate surrounding climate and migration issues. 

Swedish research funding can of course be improved and the reasoning behind the cuts may likely appear reasonable to many at a time when Sweden finds itself in a harsh economic situation – we are talking about large sums of money, after all. I have full respect for the fact that both aid and research funding need to be reprioritised. But if we think more broadly, it is easy to see that the compulsory slashing of research collaborations to the level of economically weaker countries puts vital values at risk for both Sweden and for global developments. A well-functioning system like the one that has been built up in the International Science Programme – ISP – risks coming to nothing after sixty successful years. Furthermore, the decision to make cuts goes against the initiatives Sweden is pushing at EU level, where the government says it wants to work for a Europe that stands stronger in the world, deepens international trade cooperation and takes the lead on issues such as digitalisation and climate change – based on a foundation of research and innovation. It is hard to see how this strategy could succeed if Sweden and other EU countries each cut their research collaboration programmes to the level of regions that are lagging furthest behind.  

And then there is another killer blow – the change in the Swedish Research Council’s appropriation directions that throttles the call for development research, that is, research funds allocated from the aid budget. The decision means that the ongoing call for 2023, which is currently in the consideration process, will be halted with immediate effect.  

This will hit hard across Sweden. If we only take Uppsala University as an example, it is a matter of almost SEK 110 million over five years. Excellent international research environments in fields such as Political Science, Women’s and Children’s health, Peace and Conflict research, Cultural Anthropology, Cell and Molecular Biology, Materials science, Physics and Astronomy, Information Technology and Medical Sciences will all be affected. This is no small intervention. The cuts are coming suddenly and will affect planning and staff both in Sweden and in partner countries. Projects will unexpectedly find themselves unfunded and established international collaborations will be put at risk. We at the University have reacted forcefully and are doing whatever we can to influence the situation in all of the collaborative bodies in which we participate. 

I want to be clear that without international collaborations, a major part of our research would become marginalised. A research university is by definition part of a global arena. For those affected, it automatically leads to the realisation that Sweden needs a policy that makes it easier for universities to run the collaborations they require so that we can contribute to solving social problems and strengthen Sweden’s competitiveness and prosperity. For this reason, all measures that risk hindering efforts to deepen international collaborations must be carefully tested against principles such as proportionality and necessity. The actions of the government are regrettable and have been driven through without either an open process or a dialogue with concerned parties. 

The government must take the responsibility incumbent upon it and mobilise the international collaborations that open doors for Sweden in the EU and globally.

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.  

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