Looking back gives perspective forward

The countdown has begun. Next week, it will be time for our 100th anniversary party. The KTH campus on Valhallavägen will be celebrating 100 years – in a big way.

The changes that our campus has undergone over the past 100 years reflect the growth in education and research at the university.

But the changes also show that engineering has become both broader and deeper in Sweden. The three pillars of KTH Royal Institute of Technology – sustainable development, gender equality and internationalisation – were most likely not part of the vision and vocabulary of KTH to begin with.

Today we have many more educational programmes. These are in line with the development we see in society and in the business community. Those who join us in our celebrations will notice this – either on one of our lab rounds or by listening to any one of our 100 lecturers talk about the exciting research being conducted at KTH – ‘round the clock.

I have seen, heard and witnessed on pretty much a daily basis KTH’s transformation and journey towards a modern, highly ranked international seat of learning. I fast forward to 1977, when I myself started on the chemical engineering programme. A lot of changes, both big and small, can take place over 40 years.

At that time, KTH was known as “Teknis” by its students. The campus consisted of KTH only; it didn’t include any other seats of learning. Along Drottning Kristina’s väg were a number of different institutes and laboratories, but the campus as a whole was considerably sparser, and by what is now known as the “chemistry quarter”, it was very green.

Now, there are far more buildings and it follows a more well-conceived plan.

Many of KTH’s lecture halls are the same as before, even if they have been given a complete makeover and the wooden seats on the benches have been exchanged for padded ones – a crucial detail for the audience, as they listen intensely. The varnish on the wooden seats was something of an occupational hazard, as the whole seat often accompanied you when you got up to leave.

There are many more study places on offer. Back then, I often sat at home and studied and wrote lab reports (with a pen and paper). We were pretty much constantly in the lab, which allowed us to immediately turn theory into practice. Often, we sat there until nine o’clock at night, a couple of nights a week. Back then, the campus was quiet and deserted when you went home.

Nowadays, there’s student accommodation in several different places, and our campus is a place that is populated around the clock. Unfortunately, the lab infrastructure has been economically difficult to maintain . This has made engineering programmes more theoretical – for better or worse.

Some teachers were fantastic – others weren’t as good. Pedagogical skills were not on the agenda then; instead, a good teacher was quite simply someone with natural talent. Nor was there any particular support for those who wanted to develop in their teaching role.

Since then, KTH has developed into an international seat of learning, something that we no longer even think about. This can be seen and heard on campus, and English is becoming increasingly self-evident in both the queue to get coffee and in teaching.

Oh yes, there was one more thing. The student union served Stockholm’s most colossal chocolate buttercream macaroons, and we competed in who could eat the most.

But a degree from KTH was just as sought after as it is today.