Flexible employers wanted

The other day I was asked what the future global job market will look like, what employers are going to want. But why not turn the question round? What will an employer need to live up to in the 2030s, to be able to attract the best talents and be attractive to new engineering and architecture graduates?

I think it is going to depend very much on seeing the individual behind the CV and to really determine what skills you need beyond the bog standard “flexible”, “stress-tolerant” and “socially adept”.

Despite a range of sophisticated tools that sift out the golden nuggets amongst all the applicants in the employment process, I think there is a risk of missing out on talents that, at first glance, do not appear to match the accepted mould.

It’s not always the case that the one that promises the most, best delivers. Perhaps the exact opposite is most often the case? Nor that there is a perfect age or that an optimal talent or background has a certain look about them.

My guess is that a future employer must be able to see the individual, their specific circumstances that change during the course of their working life and offer flexible solutions that suit the individual’s life situation here and now. Then, as now, opportunities for  development will be important.

Here, as I have written about earlier opportunities for lifelong learning will be one crucial competitive advantage. Employers that offer their employees time and opportunities to update and broaden their skills sets, when this is necessary, will be a step ahead when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. Here, KTH as a university is ready to lend a helping hand provided we are given the associated weighted resources.

Rapid technological development in the form of AI, digitalisation, robotisation mean that society and with it the job market will be radically changed. Half of all jobs will be automated within 20 years according to a report published a few years ago.

That the rate and speed of social change is increasing is something everyone is concerned about and implicit in this is the notion – “hang in and keep up”. But this does not mean that we can therefore race past analysis, consideration and questioning when it comes to the know how shift that is in progress.

Here, the enterprise sector and academia must think aloud together and ,not just merely deal with, but  take responsibility for this development.


Digitalisation is opening new doors

With appropriate timing as we approach the application deadline for spring 2019 to KTH and other universities on 15 October, a report has been published showing where jobs of the future will be found.

Anyone studying to become an engineer should be sought-after on the job market on graduation. This is hardly surprising but pleasing nonetheless to see that as usual, our programmes lead to employment for individuals that in turn, generate benefits for society.

According to the Swedish Public Employment Service, engineers within electronics, civil engineering and IT are on the list of professions that are easiest to find jobs in on a five-year view.

In cooperation with the enterprise sector and society in general, our programmes are up to date with what is in demand on the job market and in terms of breadth of subject areas and content.

On the same day, which appeared intentional, a report was released on Swedes and the Internet by the Internet Foundation In Sweden. This explains how we use technology and answers questions such as who, when and how people surf, shop, play games etc., online. Most people in the 15 to 45 age group do so via a smartphone and half the population have things like watches, fridges and cars connected at home. A day without going online is a very unusual day for the vast majority of the population.

Digitalisation is opening new doors not only for people who are studying and researching, but also the way in which it is possible to do this and publish information on results, test applications and usage areas, which is in line with our development plan. “KTH should, with its know-how in the area, be a leader in the digitalisation of education, research, cooperation and education and research support.”

Many of the KTH programmes utilise mixed forms of education, both traditional direct teacher-student meetings and internet-based homework and digital teaching material. In research, digitalisation has become naturally integrated, while data analytics offers new ways to analyse complex processes and create new understanding. Various administrative processes have already been digitalised or on course to become so. Irrespective of the current situation, it is absolutely vital to stay a step ahead, not least when it comes to understanding and developing digital solutions and artificial intelligence that offer opportunities for innovation. Having said that however, a deep rooting in ethical issues is also necessary.

Since KTH gained its fourth leg, digitalisation, along with equal opportunities, sustainable development and global relations, the grounds on which we stand are more stable than ever before. Since being appointed a year ago, our  Vice President for Digitalisation has been dedicated to developing KTH’s role in this area.



The importance of academian freedom

It is now three weeks since the general election in Sweden and we are still none the wiser when it comes to forming a government. Is politics important for higher education in Sweden? My answer is obviously yes. Although universities and colleges have a more independent stance than most other government authorities, we still work on behalf of taxpayers.

Over the years, a long line of private financing bodies, such as various family foundations, have appeared that support research at our universities.

However, one thing I do know is that a high-quality university sector that works well is something that all politicians ought to consider as the highest priority.

Several issues are of utmost urgency for the incoming government. Some of these are related to being successful on the international stage, others concern increasing basic funding for education and research. It is crucial that basic funding is increased for education, otherwise being able to maintain high quality will gradually become more and more difficult.

Our universities have a relatively high degree of autonomy, (something I can appreciate) not least in my role as a board member of Vinnova when I see the monthly reconciliation process between the Director General and the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation.

This is not the case for a university president. As President of KTH, I have tremendous freedom to develop KTH to the best of my ability and that of our employees as well.

Freedom of research is enshrined in the Universities Act and the Higher Education Ordinance, more specifically with regard to the free choice of the research subject. Within the Swedish higher education community, we increasingly talk about the need to also give education the same status. At the same time, KTH, as with other government bodies, must adhere to fundamental government values,  that in part concern objectivity and free opinion building.

The development of the scope of universities to ensure we work in an optimal way for the benefit of Sweden and society, is a continuous process. Being able to act on the international stage and sign agreements between KTH and international parties is a kind of freedom that calls for a certain degree of innovation.

The most recent Times Higher Education (THE) rankings  show that many Swedish universities have fallen down the rankings. One important question in this context is whether Swedish universities have the right platform to be an international presence. Having said that, I think it is becoming increasingly difficult to relate to a more troubled world. What is right and what is wrong when it comes to international cooperation is not always crystal clear.

The same applies to cooperation in general – of regulating in contracts how research findings that are the result of a joint project should be utilised, can sometimes be difficult precisely because universities are government bodies.

We in the university sector are often pretty inward looking and believe society and the enterprise sector know as much about our issues as we do ourselves. This is rarely the case. We need to take greater responsibility in inviting involvement in issues that are important to us and explaining and entering into dialogue on these issues.

A proper understanding of academia is necessary in order to be able to make wise political decisions on higher education and research. By being open and transparent and sharing our knowledge, we can contribute to good political decisions. KTH can then continue to offer programmes that impress employers and in so doing, compete on an increasingly competitive university market.

Closer to education and employers

A recent report from the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) presents new figures regarding recruitment and enrolment in higher education. It shows that a decreasing proportion of young people are starting university immediately after upper secondary school, even though there haven’t been any changes in the basic qualifications required to enrol. As usual, though, the figures show that there are relatively big regional variations; and the highest proportion of students that started their university studies by the age of 24 come from larger cities.

Since the 1970s, public policy has been to build more colleges and universities outside the big-city regions. Over the years, this has been shown to increase the proportion of students who continue their studies, particularly in their local region. Does the same trend apply in a big-city county such as Stockholm? KTH has facilities on five campuses in Greater Stockholm: Kista, Valhallavägen, Solna, Flemingsberg and Södertälje. This means that our courses are available to many people throughout the county who are thinking about continuing their studies. However, proximity to home is not the only factor in choosing a programme.

Our city integrated campuses mean that KTH has a presence not only where people live, but also where public and private sector organisations are based. KTH Campus at Valhallavägen is the oldest and has the broadest range of courses while Campus Solna is home to fewer courses and programmes but hosts the SciLifeLab, a collaborative national laboratory for the Life Sciences. In addition to the aforementioned locations, Södertälje, Flemingsberg and Kista are three totally different campuses integrated with the city.

In Södertälje, we are close to several large and internationally successful companies within the vehicle and pharmaceuticals industries. In Flemingsberg, KTH shares space with a number of other universities (Södertörn University, The Red Cross University College, Karolinska Institutet) as well as the Karolinska University Hospital. And finally there is Campus Kista, where KTH focuses on information and communication technology, alongside several international companies within IT and digitalisation as well as another university (Stockholm University). This not only creates dynamic environments, but also diverse opportunities to explore and make connections in the job market.

KTH offers many unique opportunities for students throughout the Greater Stockholm region with four locations outside the 101-year old campus on Valhallavägen. We still see that programmes at KTH Campus  receive the most applications; but I would encourage both current and future students to consider which campus they want to study at in addition to the programmes they find most interesting. All of our courses meet KTH’s high standards no matter where you study, but the different campuses can help you get access to the particular industries nearby. By studying at one of the four newer KTH campuses, you can gain excellent exposure and insight into specific sectors such as IT, vehicle engineering or life sciences.

It all starts with the students

Our approximately 13,000 full-time students are the foundation of our enterprise. Education and research go hand in hand in everything we do and they both strengthen and reinvigorate each other.

The Higher Education Act has the following impact on the students:

“Students should have the right to have a say in their education at universities. Universities should endeavour to enable students to play an active part in work to further develop courses.”

Students are, to the very highest degree, active participants in further developing the quality of education. To help ensure this is possible on a daily basis, students are represented on a number of different, preparatory and decision-making organs.

The students’ union, THS, puts forward many proposals and it is inspiring that our enterprise is constantly being viewed through fresh eyes. The fact that the students’ union representatives are replaced on an annual basis can sometimes make things a bit more difficult as we are always having to start again, as it were. On the other hand, it means we have to be more on our toes as new ideas then frequently arrive. And that’s definitely a good thing.

I am always just as delighted when a student approaches me to talk. Even though it is difficult to find enough time for personal/individual contact with students as KTH grows, I appreciate these moments. KTH is structured to ensure that each student is always in close contact with their teachers, programme director, director of first and second cycle education and not least, the study advice service, which is a place where students can discuss and be offered support on education issues. Sometimes, individual students can find it hard to navigate their way around KTH as it is so large. In this case, it is important to bear in mind that you can seek advice close to where you study, such as by contacting the school’s offices and their personnel.

It’s impressive that some students choose to become involved in the students’ union and in the guilds alongside their studies at KTH. I think this kind of involvement is of great importance in terms of how course programmes at KTH continue to be developed and maintain a consistently high quality. It is also shown in the new QS Rankings that a degree from KTH is highly valuable on the global labor market.

The perspective of how it is to be a student today, how today’s employers think, and new ideas on the development of our programmes is not simply vitalising – it is vital for the entire future development of KTH as a university.

On the road to knowledge

What is the benefit and the point of a university education? Is it usable in purely tangible terms or is it mostly to look good on your CV?

Some people argue that you only really start learning something in the workplace, and that education is a platform upon which to build.

Others claim that the acquisition of knowledge is an eternally refillable resource in the life-long learning process.

A third argument, set out clearly in a book by an American economist, is that rather than increasing a student’s skill set, a degree simply signals various qualities associated with the person who has completed the program, to a future employer.

Higher education provides numerous things in addition to pure knowledge within a number of subjects. Even though this is probably not as revolutionary in a person’s life as learning to walk or to read. However, I think there are similarities in the sense that you gain a different perspective and there is a dividing line between before and after you choose to pursue further studies.

There are many aspects to take into account here, but for the sake of simplicity, I would like to use myself as an example.

  • It offers the opportunity for you as a person to follow and further develop your curiosity. This, in turn, offers the opportunity to see connections and associations in a new way, based on factual knowledge.
  • A university education helps you to find new ways to acquire new and even more in-depth knowledge.
  • It gives you the tools and the rigour to critically review and analyse theories, in a hopefully independent way. It also gives you solid self-confidence in the necessary art of inquiry – particularly usable in times of fake news and misleading manoeuvres from different directions and in different channels.
  • For someone like me, without a long-standing academic tradition in my family, a university education means a more equal position from which to both express myself and base my actions upon.

Knowledge is incredibly multifaceted. Our society would be much poorer if someone were to prescribe exactly which programs are useful and which are superfluous. Sometimes, it is simply impossible to know what breakthroughs are being made and by whom. A breadth of higher education programs creates many opportunities for both individuals and society. Freedom of choice in education is important to safeguard if we are to continue to be able to create new values for people.

What else can you measure in rankings?

A few weeks ago, the ShanghaiRanking Academic Ranking of World Universities published its latest report , which revealed that KTH has climbed in the subject rankings. This is good news and an advancing step for an excellent university within the global education arena.

In light of this, I played around with the thought of what else you could measure other values that do not come across as clearly in figures and bibliometrics that show how research is reflected in scientific publications. Values that are also crucial in the attractiveness of a university, in addition to factors such as production, performance and reputation.

Areas that provide important pointers for researchers, teachers and students who are considering whether to apply here or, for those members of the public and private sectors that are looking for partners.

Could work environment be an indicator worth measuring when comparing different universities? Or equality? Obviously, equality is part of a healthy working culture and environment. The concept of quality also includes this as an absolutely crucial aspect that the knowledge of both women and men is leveraged to create technical solutions and innovations that deliver sustainable societal benefits.

What you should measure is one thing to do KTH’s strengths justice, as well as other so-called improvement areas.

Another discussion that has emerged in recent times is how measuring should be done. An alternative method that measures research falls under the concept of altmetrics. This is about capturing the online attention surrounding scholarly content and influence by measuring articles, downloads, sharing, likes etc., in different social channels. Visibility and reach are becoming increasingly important parameters.

New methods that can complement and reflect a university’s qualities from different angles are both exciting and instructive.

Gaining a high comparison score in equality and a good work environment is probably a major competitive advantage for a university. However, these are qualities you must be able to measure in a reasonable way.

Research in the short and long term

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a hot topic over the past 12 months. It’s an area where, according to the Vinnova report, KTH ranked best in Sweden, and is a driving force participating in numerous major research projects and collaborations.

The media are writing about it, researchers are researching it and governments are prioritising it; a development that can be seen in both Sweden and other countries.

This summer, I listened to Max Tegmark, a KTH alumnus, recipient of KTH’s Great Prize and Professor of Theoretical Physics at MIT in Boston, and his summer talk that focused on AI. He discussed in an exciting way how AI is leading to superhuman artificial intelligence, where machines can eventually outshine humans.

A thought provoking and challenging look at the possibilities of technology and how this should be used and controlled in the future, and in the service of all humanity. It is increasingly apparent that when new research fields such as this emerge, ethical questions must also be raised. Many social challenges are complex, so it is important to cast an eye over the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and the need for multidisciplinary approaches.

The research world is extremely extensive, which makes it what makes it so dynamic. While it is easy to gain the impression that a specific technology or technological development is the overriding focus, basic scientific research is continuing within many areas.

It may not garner such big headlines, but a methodical search for knowledge is obviously vital and a platform for future technological achievements. Knowledge that is mapped, tested, questioned, built on and further developed requires a great deal of patience, courage and stubbornness.

Many of today’s technological applications that we take for granted in our everyday lives would not exist without basic research. A few examples include having access to fresh food, headache tablets, electricity for cookers and even computer games. All these everyday products are based on basic research that then became an application, that when launched were only available to the few, but which everyone now has access to, at least in large parts of the world.

Both basic and applied research create benefits for society. Sometimes it is hard to say if certain basic researchfindings will offer any immediate benefits. Maybe the application will appear next year, in ten years or maybe not for another fifty years. Research is also about testing ideas and theories that prove not to hold water. It is important to bear in mind that you do not always get things right the first time – but without mistakes, there will be no progress.

Politics and principles

After four intensive days of Almedalen debates in early July, I can clearly say that none of the parties seems to be addressing university issues as part of their electioneering campaign. That these are not priority issues on the political agenda to debate and argue about is no surprise. But it is a pity and definitely something that ought to be discussed.

The fact is that high quality education and research are crucial for a country’s well-being and competitiveness. And when words such as skills training, skill shift and lifelong learning linger obstinately in the air, not just at seminars in Almedalen but also in debates, we need to take a closer look at them and nail down what they actually mean. A good and therefore in demand university programme is very important for both individuals and society. As President of one of the highest ranked institutes of technology in Europe, I think, perhaps not surprisingly, that this ought to be a higher priority, as education, in its various ways, not only concerns all of us but also Sweden’s place in the world and its well-being.

That people are talking about how the future job market will demand new skills and the increasing importance of us engaging in lifetime learning to keep pace, can only be a good thing. However, it is also something we have been seriously at odds about for a very long time. Now it is a question of building paths and education structures that actually work. In this context, it is important we get answers to questions such as: Who is going to foot the bill, who is going to make the decisions and who is going to take responsibility for this?

These seemingly short and simple questions beg answers that would enable us – universities, the enterprise sector and government bodies acting together – to give concepts such as lifelong learning and the future job market a specific meaning for people in the workforce today and to create the right conditions that will enable skills and demand to be well-matched in the future, too.

This autumn, several important inquiries will be published that will provide pointers to the direction higher education in Sweden should take. However, as already mentioned, there is a general election in the meantime and the wind can change. No matter what the election outcome, I would like to note the following:

The SULF (Swedish Association of University Teachers and Researchers) report on how compensation levels are falling behind in higher education, that was released in early summer, should be mandatory reading. It is headed Systems Error in the Knowledge Factory  (in Swedish)and compares  the kind of resources that were invested in the early 1990s and today. For example, in the case of courses within technology (plus science and pharmacy) costs exceed revenues by 42 percent, the report claims.

This is untenable. And something that many of my colleagues have likewise been pointing out for years. It’s not only a matter of needing to increase basic funding for higher education, we also need to look at what type of education we are talking about and let the differences be seen – science and technology programmes with important lab facilities must be allowed to cost more if we want Sweden to remain a leader in terms of education, teaching and research in this area.

An increase in basic funding is an important issue of principle that would address how existing resources for higher education are used. Should research grants be available from a number of different research funding bodies to which researchers have to apply in competition with each other? Or should the money be allocated directly to the education institutes within the parameters of an increase in basic funding. Research suggests that a high proportion of basic funding leads to higher quality research that has a greater impact (https://campi.kth.se/nyheter/mer-basanslag-ger-bast-forskning-1.809969 ). It would therefore appear not to be the case that competing for research resources per se, leads to the most effective research systems.

An increase in basic funding (education and research) is also discussed in the model proposal that was presented in early July from Styr- och resursutredningen (STRUT) (Public Inquiry into Management and Resources ). This should therefore be an urgent issue for politicians that often emphasis the role universities and colleges play in the image of Sweden and Swedish competitiveness to address.

The autumn semester is about to start at higher education institutes in Sweden. We at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm will be welcoming new students on our civil engineering and architecture programmes and new international students on masters’ programmes. All these students will be taking high quality courses that lead to benefits for society. It is therefore vital that the financing system enables us to continue to offer high quality education, teaching and research. The rate of change is accelerating all around us and if we universities are to keep up with this, the financing model for education and research must give us the necessary support to be able to do so.



Students are a reflection of their time

At the conference Current Priorities and Future Challenges: Higher Education in the Nordic Region, organised by the Swedish Higher Education Authority, the discussion covered subjects such as digitisation, quality and gender equality linked to higher education. Student representatives from the Nordic countries gave their views on what higher education needs and what it is lacking.

It was inspiring and thought-provoking and was also to a certain degree recognisable to anyone who has ever been a student.

In Sweden today, 400,000 people are studying and 40 years ago, that number was around 10,000. The fact that increasing numbers of people are gaining access to higher level studies is naturally positive. But a recurring view was that both resources and status in education have been undermined, and that expectations are not matched with the relevant resources or tools.

Doing something about this is a matter of urgency.

The student panel painted a fairly gloomy picture of reality, where today’s students are rushing through their respective courses and study programmes with the aim of adapting to the demands of the labour market, and are viewed more as products.

There is a lack of resources for both the programmes themselves and for students in terms of lower purchasing power for those living on student loans. Several panel members thought that all the fine words about education being inclusive, sustainable and available to all were insufficient if they lack substance in the daily life of the various campuses.

Some of them saw a risk in quantity becoming more important than quality.

Many exciting and thought-provoking views were presented. It’s clear, however, that each generation has its own particular challenges while having similar experiences.

Having a lack of money as a student, needing to work alongside your studies so that you have enough money to last the month – these problems seem to be timeless and something that every generation can recognise.

A higher pace in the form of the wealth of platforms available to offer information and knowledge is in itself a stress factor. This is something that people such as I, a student 40 years ago, do not recognise. At the same time, some people are saying that Swedish students take too long to complete their higher education (https://www.svensktnaringsliv.se/fragor/ett-utmanat-sverige/langliggare-pa-hogskolan-ett-vaxande-problem_713201.html in Swedish). A lot can be said about this.

However, I get many reports from international colleagues that students from KTH Royal Institute of Technology who travel out into the world for degree projects, for example, are highly appreciated. This is because they have greater knowledge and are better at independent projects compared to students who admittedly are younger but have not managed to acquire as much expertise.

Several of those on the panel saw how digitisation can change, and is already changing, how learning manifests and takes place. But many of them pointed out the importance for universities of developing learning in the digital learning environment. It’s not simply a matter of replacing paper with a mobile phone or tablet. The fact that face-to-face, whole-group lectures can be replaced by online lectures seemed to be embraced by many panellists, but on the other hand these can never fully replace meetings with a teacher.

Exchanging ideas, receiving encouragement, being challenged and deepening your knowledge in a meeting with a teacher is, and most likely always will be, crucial to knowledge acquisition. Perhaps we can draw inspiration from the English tutor system, where the pedagogical method varies but the teaching is based on recurring face-to-face meetings.

The challenge here is that, with 400,000 students in the Swedish system, more time is required for learning and teachers. More money for courses and study programmes, in simple terms.

Research has witnessed an increase in resources over the past ten years. It’s now time to do the same with education.

An increase in basic grants is required; competitive research funding is welcomed but it does not fund the crucial meetings between students and teachers. Because today’s students are tomorrow’s researchers, today’s researchers are ensuring that the students are receiving what is currently the most relevant knowledge, laying the foundations for competitive and innovative research tomorrow.

Soon it will be time to hit the hammock, and I hope everyone has a really pleasant summer! It’s a time for relaxation, but for many people, particularly teachers and researchers, it’s also a time of conferences and planning for the next semester. The university doesn’t shut just because the semester is over!