When will this be over?

When will everything be back to normal? When will all this be over? These are questions most people are asking and that I am, as President of KTH, asked almost every day. Given the situation, they are impossible to answer, but I will make an attempt.

For our students, our now well-developed distance education will apply until the summer. What we are focusing on in particular right now is also how to hold fair online examinations in a way that works properly.

For our employees, it is case of our following Public Health Agency and government recommendations to reduce the spread of infection and most people are therefore working from home. When these recommendations are changed, work days will become more like normal everyday life again. But with increased awareness that, with the aid of technology, we can hold conferences, meetings and work with big distances between us.

We can expect to see analyses and evaluations once we come out on the other side. Then, we, on behalf of KTH along with many others , will be able to claim that, via the tremendous efforts that I have already mentioned previously, have been able to stay on course to becoming a leading university within e-learning. The development of our online learning environment has been forced to take seven league strides in a very short space of time and this is something that will also benefit us in the longer term.

KTH study programs will then most probably have two sturdy legs to stand on, where one is education IRL and the other in a digital environment. The thinking is that both will, in the future, complement and strengthen each other in an even more apparent way.

In the meantime, it is a case of hanging in and battling on, however.  And taking pleasure in the fact that the initiatives that are being taken and the research that is being done at KTH will be of tremendous help in the fight against the coronavirus.

That’s what I intend to do.

Crises require creativity

Thinking short term and long term in parallel is a challenge in every crisis. Not only to find immediate solutions to urgent problems but also when crisis and distance education has become the new normal.

In terms of hand to mouth organisationally, we seem to have cracked it, even though many smaller and larger issues remain. Our distance education is now up and running generally speaking and we are meeting our priority of enabling students to receive their education, with certain reservations.

Here, I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone, not least the personnel, on the e-learning side and all our fantastic teachers who have worked hard to find solutions.

However, new issues are arising in the wake of these changed ways of working. Many people have had to put on hold their normal work duties and rethink their working hours. Large organisations and public authorities with long planning horizons and long lead times have had to become more nimble-footed. Not least when it comes to education.

At the same time, there have been several research related initiatives that can contribute with knowledge and/or tests directed towards coronavirus and Covid-19. Other initiatives concern materials and equipment for hospitals. This shows an ability to focus together with creativity that is wonderful to witness.

In the midst of this storm there will also be a need to see what educational contribution KTH can make in the longer term. A questionnaire about this came from the Department of Education.  The issue was what expanded roles could we and other universities in Sweden be able to accept to provide further support in the critical economic situation Sweden risks finding itself in as a consequence of Covid-19. In effect, this concerns things such as being quickly able to offer courses and programmes remotely to more people and on a larger scale, during the summer and autumn.

Naturally, we are going to do our very best – even if greater clarity concerning possible additional financing would be welcome. KTH is taking an inventory of its existing programmes and courses that could be offered as distance education, in the first instance this autumn, and whether courses that are being restructured to a digital format could be suitable to be made available for other groups.

 

Focus on education in difficult times

KTH’s role is as an education provider and research institute. This will remain the case as far as possible despite Covid-19. We will offer our students the teaching and education they are entitled to expect – even if this is in ways other than we are used to.

This is a major transition and alternative solutions of different kinds will apply. It’s about reducing the risk of spreading infection by avoiding assembling large groups of people. Right now, we must all do what we can to protect especially vulnerable people to reduce the load on healthcare providers.

Unique situations demand unique solutions. To reduce the spread of infection and the worry many of us feel, there will be a very big increase in the use of our available technology.  Digitalisation and the use of digital tools are nothing new, in truth. But, the pandemic hastens the pace and scale of this. Many of these tools have been available and used for some time, but things are now critical and KTH personnel have worked round the clock in recent days to scale up their usage.

A Coordinating Group that, in principle, consists of the KTH crisis management group, plus me as President of KTH and head of government agency, Deputy President, university director and heads of schools, has been established. The group is working with and raising issues that must be dealt with directly and others that are of a more long-term nature where we are planning for different scenarios.

Speaking for myself, and very likely for many others, my worries have been superseded in part by a determination to find solutions. However, I feel we must show patience in such an urgent situation and transformation. Having said that, the situation is changing all the time and you can access the latest information on what is happening at KTH here.

Not being able to see the big picture and the consequences of both the little things and the big context is difficult. However, I am convinced that with the help of technology, science and human compassion, we can pull through this.

Nobody forgets a good teacher

A good teacher can make all the difference. I noticed this when I started studying Russian in upper secondary school and then microbiology at KTH. But what’s the secret?

Saying that they opened up a whole new world for me can sound a touch pretentious, but I will let that pass as both these subjects have been tremendously important in my professional life and to my way of thinking. Commitment, knowledge and the ability to see students and their needs are, to my mind, a kind of crucial trinity. Along with being able to genuinely listen.

But how are teachers rewarded, ranked and valued in the academic system? Not sufficiently highly if you ask me. Having said that, our ranking system has changed and now includes leadership and teaching achievements, in addition to publications. That is laudable – but like society in general, teachers do not enjoy the status that their efforts and importance perhaps deserve.

If we are to be able to live up to our aim that all researchers should be teachers and vice versa, we must increase opportunities to work together in teams and be able to get support and inspiration from colleagues. Doctoral students with teaching duties need good role models and sounding boards in their turn.

In addition to the 15 university teaching and learning course credits all teachers at KTH are expected to have obtained, opportunities to gain access to the latest findings within learning and teaching are obviously also required. How can we take advantage of the opportunities digitalisation offers in a smart and efficient way to benefit teaching, is an illustration of just such an issue.

KTH also offers teacher training as a combination of subject knowledge within mathematics, technology, chemistry and physics and engineering know-how. It was incredibly pleasing that our subject teacher training for upper secondary school mathematics was rated as high quality in the most recent UKÄ inspection .

That the art of teaching is now being seen as a skills set in its own right, is an important development. But here, we can go even further.

At KTH, we are continuing to develop university teaching and learning to be able to always offer opportunities for continuing professional development.

Does it pay to take a degree?

Is studying for several years really worth it? Leaving aside the knowledge you acquire, the creativity and ability to structure, analyse and dissect facts, is it really worth it in terms of money? Yes, it would appear so. Not least as a Master of Science in Engineering or as a woman in particular.

At least according to the survey published by the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) late last year on how higher education is valued on the job market.

The survey shows for example, that someone who has studied a Master of Science in Engineering and gained a job after graduating, will be well placed, in third place after doctors and lawyers. What’s more, KTH graduates do slightly better salary-wise than graduates from other universities with a corresponding degree. And even though men seem to get a higher salary whatever their education, women do appear to benefit from continuing their studies, compared to having an upper secondary school certificate in their locker.

This indicates that the job market values a highly educated workforce.  And there is a big need – many people are concerned that there will be a shortage of people having a degree of Master of Science in Engineering in particular in the future – within AI for example, there is expected to be a shortfall of around 70,000 people with the right skills sets in the next few years.

However, the picture is not entirely clear as some newly graduated  don´t get a job. Here, I think that companies would benefit from viewing this as an opportunity to employ someone with a first and second cycle education of high quality and then allow the individual to gain experience and add skills based on needs.

Sometimes I hear the argument that a study programme does not reflect the knowledge requirements of the job market. Our study programmes naturally change as society changes – for example that every graduate of KTH should now be able to work towards sustainable societal development.  A degree from KTH does not cover the same things as a degree from 30 years ago of course. Certain subjects and areas that are studied today, didn’t even exist back then.

I still think that the path to better matching  lies in an even more developed interaction and dialogue between educators and employers. A better understanding of the knowledge and skills our students take with them when they graduate is needed. This applies to both bachelor, master and doctoral degree graduates. They are all needed and will contribute over time with different skills sets.

Only then can we have a serious discussion about skills provision. Without creative and developing jobs in Sweden, these talents will look further afield internationally and that would be a real shame.