New students and new pens

What I liked best when I went to school was the start of the autumn term. The smell of new books, a new timetable, new pens. Despite the arrival of darker days, everything exuded a sense of new initiatives. I feel the same way now – as president of Sweden’s largest university of technology – and with great expectations of the days to come.

KTH’s new students arrived last week and right now it’s freshers week. Many people, both students and staff, are heavily involved in welcoming the new students. A commitment that hopefully will infect the new students once they get stuck into their studies properly.

The reorganisation of KTH has now entered its third phase and I can see how, slowly but surely, we are reaching our goal of creating a more coherent and efficient organisation. Once again, I would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone for all the hard work that both the faculty and administrators have put in and are putting in on this. The continued development of KTH is something I look forward to this autumn.

Another area that is a constant fixture on the agenda is, of course, sustainable development. KTH, via things such as the climate framework , is working to find effective solutions and create new technology that support sustainable development. Materials research, energy and urban planning, to name a few critical areas for the future where sustainable solutions are now being developed. Added to which, we are working clearly and consciously to reduce the university’s own impact on the environment.

KTH should stand for scientifically based knowledge and facts in everything we do, not least when it comes to sustainable development, where emotions risk gaining the upper hand, which can sometimes lead to short-term solutions that can be worse than what we already have.

Sustainability was, for natural reasons, the most discussed subject at this year’s Almedal Week in early July. Although this Almedal Week had fewer seminars in total, many of the seminars themselves raised important and burning issues. Another area at Almedal Week – a perennial favourite – discussed was lifelong learning. Several discussions referred to Study Friday, a specific proposal that the enterprise sector, universities and Sveriges Ingenjörer debated in early summer. Next week, a few members of the Study Friday working group, will meet Matilda Ernkrans, the Minister of Higher Education and Research, to present the concept in more detail.

One clear common denominator for the above initiatives is collaboration. Another similar example that was presented in Almedal Week was Stockholm Trio – an alliance along international lines with KI, Stockholm University and KTH  that we launched at the end of May. We are going to take the next step this autumn, which will be very exciting.

Yet another thing that was obviously mentioned and intensely discussed, apart from AI, was the  Inquiry on Governance and Resources (STRUT), where many parties have recently submitted their comments. How much consideration will be given to these comments, many of which were of a critical nature, and how they will be amended, can become a key issue for academia.

 

 

The benefits of collaboration

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” is an African proverb. It simply reflects the benefits, pleasure and necessity of good collaborations.

I used it in my own acceptance speech as president and its meaning seems to be increasingly relevant when it comes to how well universities can meet the global competition.

Together, KTH, the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm University have launched a university alliance, the Stockholm trio. We signed the agreement on 27 May. In short, this means that we intend to strengthen and cross-pollinate each other via greater cooperation at pretty much all levels.

Research issues, or societal challenges as they are often called, have become so complex today that one set of knowledge is not enough. Such cooperation, where you can add several dimensions to your thinking, gain new perspectives that introduce new aspects along the way towards developing innovations and solutions, is crucial – and also much more fun, if I say so myself.

There have always been systematic forms of cooperation between universities throughout history, but today, these are definitely both a success factor and a foundation for enhancing interdisciplinary research. In addition to research and education, cooperation is also a key part of a university’s activities, while by its very nature, knowledge is both shareable and borderless.

Stockholm Trio is not simply a way of increasing our penetration internationally, it will also promote exchanges between teachers, students, researchers and administrative personnel on an everyday basis at the different universities.

For the third year in a row, KTH, Chalmers University of Technology and Stockholm School of Economics have been awarded the highest rating in the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education annual survey of the internationalisation of Swedish universities. When it comes to global relationships, cooperation and partnerships are also of great importance. Student mobility and international joint publications are a couple of the aspects on which universities are assessed and should reflect their degree of internationalisation.

Nor should we forget internal partnerships; in which we further develop KTH by exchanging and sharing ideas with each other. Via respect, trust and transparency, we help KTH become an even more attractive university for students and staff.

Meeting the world outside KTH

International networks are part of being competitive as a university. They are also part of keeping a close eye on the global academic environment, that contributes to being a guarantee of knowledge driven development.

Stepping outside KTH and meeting other universities, helps maintain relationships and forge contacts within teaching, research and cooperation. The South Africa-Sweden University Forum (SASUF), which I took part in last week, is one way to meet other universities and learn more about them and their values. SASUF is a STINT-financed project that started in 2017, and this year, the network consists of 13 Swedish and 23 South African universities (https://sasuf.org/ ).

This year’s “South Africa-Sweden Research and Innovation Week” was divided into six different themes focused on Agenda 2030 and the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. The thinking is to provide the inspiration for a joint research project with opportunities for innovation (https://sasuf.sched.com/). The forum was arranged at Stellenbosch University and attracted around 500 participants, half of whom were from Sweden. The most important part concerned matchmaking between Swedish and South African researchers with the focus on discussions about joint projects. Even though Sweden and South Africa are far apart in sheer geographic terms, we share similar social challenges. What we can each contribute towards finding solutions looks somewhat similar on the one hand and yet on the other hand, not.

A common set of academic values all around the world puts the focus on knowledge rather than letting general opinion soliciting take over. For us at KTH, student/researcher exchanges offer an opportunity to learn new things and to share KTH’s teaching and research.

Something else that is at least of equal importance as cooperation between universities, is having an active national and international participation in civic society. This can be done via the co-production of new knowledge between universities, the enterprise sector, private organisations and the public sector, which produces genuine societal benefits. Next year, the SASUF will be held in Uppsala when we also plan to invite the public and private sectors to meetings with researchers.

Within the parameters of SASUF, how mobility should be developed without long journeys was discussed. This concerns digital solutions that are so attractive that the amount of travel is reduced. Because, when all said and done, it is a long way from Sweden to South Africa.

 

 

Inspiring at MIT

Last week I was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, in Boston in relation to our partnership with them. The sense of playfulness and derring-do when it comes to research questions both minor and major was incredibly inspiring. It is a place that sets no limits as to what questions research can pose or what it can achieve.

One part of the Swedish Public Inquiry into Management and Resources (STRUT), concerns increased basic funding. Less than 40 percent of the research being pursued at KTH today is supported by basic funding, that is to say, funding for research and third cycle education.

This means that research is very much steered by external funding that researchers have to apply for and compete to receive. While on the one hand KTH researchers are very successful, on the other hand, I sometimes reflect over whether there is enough time and energy to dedicate to more profound questioning.

Daring and entirely new research ideas sometimes fail to attract external funding as a great deal of external research is all too often dictated by political opinion as to what should be researched.

I was struck by the fact that many internationally very highly ranked universities are able to offer their researchers exactly this kind of scope for visionary research that does not offer any immediate benefits to society, thanks to their substantial resources. Financing is one part, another part concerns the research climate in Sweden where we are perhaps, by tradition, more methodical that adventurous. Both parts are needed and they reinforce each other.

More visionary research can lead to social benefits a bit further down the line instead. We need a financing system that is sustainable in the long-term and that provides a sense of peace and quiet. Only then, can more exciting new thinking be thought.

A result of systematic and solid work

At the risk of repeating myself, sustainable development, equality, internationalisation and digitalisation are the pillars KTH rests on. The idea is that these values should be an integral part of our everyday thinking and the work we do within research, education and cooperation.

Being an internationally competitive university requires constant work to maintain and further improve the high quality of education, research and cooperation. Added to which, a long-term systematic is required if we are to continuously develop in line with the times and have the ability to be innovative.

We recently received confirmation that our four pillars are working very well and systematic and solid work is being pursued in support of these values. This was noted in the THE University Impact Rankings.

In the survey, 500 universities around the world were measured against a number of the 17 UN Sustainable Development goals. These goals, that also map and summarise the challenges humanity is facing, concern the continued survival of our planet.

Here KTH as a university, has a big responsibility to research and develop solutions, sift out the relevant issues, create innovations, cooperate and educate tomorrow’s engineers, teachers and architects to build and facilitate a stable society with a long-term future.

Having a social responsibility as a university is of the utmost importance. Not only as a public body within the research and education sector, whose activities are financed by taxpayers, but also that these are closely linked with our values where the following is firmly established:

“KTH’s activities are based on the conviction that education and research can and should contribute to better living conditions and to ecologically, socially and economically sustainable social development. As a university of technology, KTH has a specific responsibility to develop and teach the knowledge needed to promote such a sustainable development.”

The THE Impact Rankings are an evident sign that KTH is taking clear steps in this direction. That only two Swedish universities participated in the rankings can be interpreted in different ways. I hope many more universities choose to participate next year.