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Minister’s key words match KTH research

Excellence, internationalisation and innovation. These are Minister for Education Mats Persson’s key words for university policy. These are certainly words that resonate well with KTH and the way we work on a day-to-day basis, when the words are translated into action.

At a meeting in mid-January, the minister gave a brief programme statement on how he sees the future of education and research in Sweden. Swedish universities uphold high standards when it comes to research and its results, but a sharper focus on excellence is necessary if we are to remain at the forefront.

KTH works methodically in different ways to stay in the game and keep its position in the global competition, a prime example being our RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) that was completed a year ago. The results are very useful in continuing to develop our research, in terms of both the scrutiny of our research by external experts and ourselves, and recommendations on how we can take it to the next level.

The many strategic initiatives taken by KTH itself and jointly with other universities and research financiers guarantee continued excellence in our research. This goes for everything from the Science for Life Laboratory and Digital Futures, to KTH’s involvement in urban development and sustainable production, to name but a few areas.

Collaboration across national borders and disciplines is something we have consciously focused on for a long time, as the major societal challenges we are facing call for a wide range of expertise, perspectives and interdisciplinary research collaboration. One good example is our EU strategy: by taking part in Framework Programme 9 for Research and Innovation, Horizon Europe, we can influence the focus and future development of research. Our involvement in various international networks, such as our EUI alliance Unite!, also presents greater opportunities to deepen our international collaboration.

And of course, innovation fits KTH Innovation like a glove, whereby applied research that brings real benefits is a cornerstone for KTH. We have many examples where successful research has been translated into innovative business ideas, and we have a well-equipped support system for fostering innovations from students and researchers alike.

Once the government and the minister have concretised and more closely defined their key words, KTH looks forward to being an active discussion partner for future university policy, and indeed on the next research bill scheduled for presentation in autumn 2024.

The violence affects us all

Almost daily the media tell us about more shootings, more gun deaths, more bombings. It is awful, and it affects us all in one way or another.

It can engender feelings of unease, incomprehension and suspicion. A sense of fear in the pit of the stomach.

The other day, the ever-escalating violence even hit KTH’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science after a building in Kista was bombed. No one was physically injured, but the entrance and some of the offices in the building need to be repaired and restored.

But I would also like to focus for a moment on how powerfully and skilfully the situation was handled in terms of crisis management, communication, and consideration for those who were directly affected. KTH acted swiftly and efficiently to ensure that as many people as possible knew about what had happened, what action to take, and could then get back to work. Once the police had given the all-clear, scheduled teaching and lab work at our Electrum Laboratory could resume.

Security has been tightened up, some areas are still cordoned off, and it is certainly something that will remain on many people’s minds – for a while at least.

For me personally, though, I will also remember our ability to meet devastating violence with a caring and professional response.

Research and technological progress go hand in hand

Technological progress, curiosity, research. Which comes first? They are all closely interlinked and interdependent – especially in the life sciences.

This was really brought home to me on a visit to the national research resource SciLifeLab, run jointly by KTH, the Karolinska Institute, and Stockholm and Uppsala Universities.

This laboratory for the life sciences comprises several vital components: advanced expertise, far-reaching data collection, and a specific research infrastructure to produce large volumes of data in molecular biosciences, with the aim of identifying and developing methods in fields such as medicine, health, the climate and environment, forestry and agriculture.

As a visitor, it’s hard not to be impressed by all the collective knowledge housed in SciLifeLab and its advanced technical equipment. It has everything from large, unique, sophisticated microscopes to commercial equipment, a portable test lab for Covid that can be used in countries where medical equipment is scarce, and much more

It is quite magic to see this collection of equipment and the huge databases that are needed to build knowledge and analyses that can form the basis of the future of medicine, for example. SciLifeLab is also attracting international attention along with applications from many successful researchers.

As new questions arise and new challenges need solutions, the need for even more advanced equipment and technological progress increases. In happy symbiosis, the research and technological solutions strengthen and develop one another. So technological progress is fundamental to advanced research, but is also its own field of research, one that paves the way for new knowledge in the life sciences.

SciLifeLab came about as the result of a concerted effort around a strategic research area, and it has since been awarded additional funding and major external grants, particularly via the Wallenberg Foundations. KTH has been an important partner throughout – and will remain so as SciLifeLab expands in Solna, and through several national nodes within the framework of the national infrastructure for life sciences.

 

From nanometres to light-years

Visiting KTH’s various research environments can be quite a breathtaking experience. The fields of research span such huge distances, from the minuscule nanometre – that’s one-billionth of a metre or 0.000 000 001 metres – to the truly vast light-year at 9.46 trillion kilometres, or 9,460,730,472,580,800 metres to be precise. And the fields of research themselves cover aviation and railways and med tech, and everything in between.

While the global situation may feel gloomy with war, climate crisis, energy crisis and economic outlook, a browse through KTH’s research brings hope – and also a conviction that the solutions, or parts of the solutions, to the major societal challenges of our age can be found here, whether thanks to new materials, new ways of producing and generating energy, or developing existing technical systems.

It is also pleasing to see that our students have access to, and indeed do access, our experimental environments and study a range of phenomena. I think that anyone in proximity to KTH cannot miss the concentration and thirst for discovery that exist here.

The learning environments, where students can put their theoretical knowledge into practice and test them in laboratory conditions, are something we will always protect. And that too is breathtaking.

Student influence underneath the tree

As the new president of KTH, last week I received a comprehensive wish list from THS, the KTH Student Union. Like Santa, I can’t promise that everything they asked for will be underneath the tree this year. But some of them are already planned and under way.

Student influence is fundamental to a university’s development, and important in driving development issues at KTH. We take it very seriously – and not only because we have to in accordance with Sweden’s Higher Education Act, but because it helps to improve overall quality. Student influence is also key in driving and achieving change.

Students are a natural barometer at a university, and also a kind of touchstone for finding out what’s happening in modern society. In other words, students provide important insights into where the future is headed.

A long list.
Wish list from KTH Student Union.

But back to the list, which contains 33 different wishes, from greater student influence to stronger links with the business community, broader empowerment, sustainability in teaching, and higher integration of gender equality, diversity and equal conditions (JML). These are just some of the wishes that can roughly be categorised as pertaining to the social study environment, the actual content of the education, and the relationship with the future labour market. I will of course be looking at the entire list in detail, but I can already see that a lot of it is already in progress, particularly in our work on the education of the future.

One thing I can guarantee is that we and the students will be working together to shape the agenda for KTH’s development over the years to come – and strong, dynamic student influence will of course be a major factor in this process. That much I can promise ahead of the festive season.