KTH’s place in Europe

Since 1 January, as President at KTH Royal Institute of Technology I have been a member of the board of CESAER. Since its inception in 1990, the objective of the network has been to share experiences in education, research and innovation. KTH is a member of several networks, and this is a way for us to exert influence and make a crucial analysis of the surrounding world.

CESAER is one of the longer-running European networks of which KTH is a member. CESAER stands for “Conference for European Schools for Advanced Engineering Education and Research” and to be a member, the seat of learning is required to be entitled to award doctorates in the technology and engineering science field. The network currently consists of 51 universities in 25 countries in Europe. These include both specialised universities such as KTH and broad universities with a technical faculty. The network is one of several European networks in which a large share of the activities focuses on work on policy and lobbying aimed at the EU and its various education and research programmes.

This is why I spent last weekend in Glasgow at the University of Strathclyde, where CESAER’s new chairman, Sir Jim McDonald, is the Principal & Vice-Chancellor. KTH gains a great deal from taking part in European efforts by being active in lobbying organisations of this kind. Another benefit is being able to bring home best practices from universities in other countries that can be used in various ways – not least in nationwide lobbying work. As one of the founders of CESAER, KTH has a good reputation. There is great potential for our opinions to be seen and heard in various policy documents submitted in the EU’s work on the new Framework Programme.

Within Europe there is talk of “modern universities”, and the CESAER meeting also devoted time to this. A great deal concerns the social benefit provided by universities, something which is also on the national agenda. Personally I can see that KTH supplies a great deal of social benefit in the form of students with first-, second- and third-cycle degrees. KTH conducts successful research that benefits society and the business community. It also contributes to making Sweden a successful nation in the field of innovation.

Open access and open science are other points for discussion at CESAER; at the meeting, we discussed the misconception that “open” means the same as “free”. This particularly applies to access to research infrastructures, where the issue of financing is just as relevant in this network as it is nationally. In addition, this is something that the Minister for Higher Education and Research, Helene Hellmark Knutsson, brought up at the Swedish Higher Education Authority’s and the Association of Swedish Higher Education’s annual presidents’ conference at Steningevik outside Stockholm last week. The minister said that a special commission of inquiry on research infrastructure would be appointed. However, she made the caveat that this inquiry would not begin before the Swedish general election but instead would be a task for the next government.

In addition, during the CESAER meeting, I was made aware of the concern that seats of learning in the UK are expressing regarding future participation in European education and research collaborations after Brexit. This is also a crucial issue for KTH, which has many in-depth partnerships with seats of learning and researchers in the UK.

Analysis of the surrounding world and lobbying work are processes that take time and energy. It is particularly pleasing to see the teachers and researchers who are making an effort to conduct debate on a national level. During the past week (https://www.svd.se/hogskolorna-har-fastnat-i-en-ekonomisk-bubbla – in Swedish) we were able to hear some thoughts about how the lion’s share of external grants contributes to less freedom to choose research questions and, in particular, how this affects the time available to spend on education. Before Christmas (https://campi.kth.se/nyheter/professor-vill-hoja-undervisningens-status-1.782843 – in Swedish) we got to read a post on the importance of working to increase the tariff of education and collaboration. This form of nationwide lobbying is enhanced by KTH playing a part in European and international contexts. In these contexts, KTH can introduce points of view that we consider to be important, and we can obtain ideas and thoughts that are beneficial to KTH’s development.