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Is KTH an international university or a public authority?

After six years as Vice President for Global Relations, it is worth reflecting on KTH’s position, both nationally and internationally. Without going into KTH’s research in too much depth, I believe that today we are generally more visible and far more successful. So why is that? Obviously it is a combination of different aspects, and there is no one overriding reason. Having said that, there are some that have played a larger part than others.

I believe I can see a marked change in our approach to recruiting teachers and researchers. The level of ambition is higher today than it was a few years ago. I think that the special recruitment of 12 assistant professors just over a decade ago has been significant. Their starter packages were far better than was standard at the time, which attracted many high-calibre applicants. These assistant professors have now grown into leading international researchers who are hugely important to KTH’s development. Today, this approach is well established throughout KTH.

Our student recruitment has developed well both nationally, with high admission grades, and internationally, where we attract a great many applicants, and where by limiting the number of places we accept only the very best and most motivated students.

Is KTH a well-known university? Yes, it is. One interesting observation is that we are primarily well known as one of the universities that has a good reputation and is highly ranked. We cannot, however, take this position for granted, and we must work together to develop the image of KTH as a progressive university with a clear vision of where we are headed. Since our resources are limited, this means we must constantly make priorities. It is not our words, but our actions that will make KTH develop. Is this obvious? Maybe so, but it is still something we constantly need to remind ourselves of.

So how about Sweden? We do not need to compare ourselves to other Swedish universities, even though we naturally collaborate with the ones that are most relevant to us. In many cases, what we and various other leading Swedish universities do is essentially different to what others do. In that respect, many of the rules and legal requirements that come with being a Swedish public authority are limiting, for instance when it comes to managing financial assets for long-term investments. The issue of greater autonomy for universities is, in some respects, fundamental to the development of KTH, particularly in light of the European Universities Initiative (EUI) and the European university alliances, for example.

What do we need to do more of? We need to create a culture of high quality, and have the ability to focus and create a sense of joy and pride at being a part of KTH. And this is not something we can realise by making a decision– it has to be built through trust.

Awareness and knowledge make changes possible

As I approach the end of my tenure as Vice President for Gender Equality and Core Values, I would like to reflect on developments over these past six years – mainly to hand over to a new management team, but also to energise those who have worked with me for their continued efforts.

A government remit to integrate gender equality issues was an excellent starting point. Based on previous experiences and established research, an extensive problems analysis was conducted, and this laid the foundation for the goals that were set: cohesive organisation, knowledge and awareness, equal conditions and an inclusive culture. Setting up an Equality Office with expert strategists, a strategic management group (JMLA), a Gender and Change Management Programme (GOFL) and several important groups has been absolutely invaluable in everything that has been done. Increasing knowledge and awareness in the area with an academic course, training for recruitment committees, careers development for assistant professors, and a major initiative on training and developing teachers and directors of education, so that they in turn can train all students, has been a high priority.

Without knowledge and awareness, none of the changes we have seen would have been possible. In work on equal conditions, legal requirements have been coordinated with change management to ensure integration. What academic culture do we want, and what values should characterise leadership and co-workership in the organisation? Do disrespect, vulnerability and harassment exist in the culture, at the cost of quality in research and education? These are questions that have been asked in our work for a more inclusive culture. The results are now evident, thanks to committed co-workers and change leaders.

Greater awareness of gender inequality has helped bring about a more informed, action-oriented discussion. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who has been with me on this journey towards change. And thanks too to everyone who has read my posts.

Finally, I would like to add a reminder that we managed to change the name to Malvinas väg, inspired by the Malvina network for women engineers, which has existed at KTH for a long time. It may seem like an insignificant, symbolic thing to change the name from Osquldas väg – which unfortunately sounded like the Swedish for “Virgins Road” – to Malvinas väg, but it is strongly anchored in a serious societal problem, with cultures of honour that lead to everything from sexual harassment and student sexism to child marriage and hymenoplasty.

Everyone at KTH can be proud that this is no longer the name of our road. The work continues, and a plan for the coming three years is of course in place.

Sustainable collaboration within the Stockholm Trio gives new opportunities

University Alliance Stockholm Trio is a collaboration between KTH, Karolinska Institute and Stockholm University. As part of this, Stockholm Trio for Sustainable Action was launched on 1 June in conjunction with the conference entitled Stockholm+50: a healthy planet for the prosperity of all – our responsibility, our opportunity”.

However, work began just over a year ago and several joint activities have already taken place. The aim of the sustainability initiative is to boost the universities’ ability to strategically contribute knowledge, allowing fast yet science-based decisions that are necessary for sustainable societal development.

The initiative will also enable new research and education across faculty boundaries, in close collaboration with city and regional authorities, non-profit organisations and the private sector. In this way, we can jointly make society stronger when it comes to climate, health, innovation systems and entrepreneurial spirit for a sustainable future.

Representing KTH in the initiative are the Vice President for Sustainable Development (undersigned), and Sustainability Manager Kristina von Oelreich. If you have any ideas for activities or projects that could be carried out as part of Stockholm Trio for Sustainable Action, please don’t hesitate to contact us.


Several paths to future education

Monday saw the autumn Storträff meeting on the theme Finding Paths to the Future of Education. Following introductory proceedings by the university president, student union president and head of programme management, looking both backwards and forwards at educational matters, there were group-based, forward-looking discussions on 30 different topics voted for by the participants.

The topics covered a wide range of areas: different teaching and exam forms, reception of new students, extended recruitment and extended participation, transformation towards an equal, gender equal, diverse and sustainable society, integrated lifelong learning, and several others. It was also nice to see brand new topics like parallel languages and multilingualism in education being discussed. We also had time for a poster session with the first group to participate in the ‘Future leaders for strategic educational development’ programme.

It was a very successful meeting. Particularly because of all the good ideas that sprung from an exchange of experiences between teachers, students and support staff, across school and administrative boundaries – good ideas that can be tested immediately or further evaluated in one of KTH’s Prioritised Educational Issues (PriU) groups.

This genuinely collegial operation, which includes all staff and students at KTH, has been highlighted as a good example in the Swedish Higher Education Authority’s audit of KTH’s quality assurance work. Another strength is that the management take part in the meeting, chaired by the Vice President for Education, and that the PriU groups regularly take part in the Board of Education’s meetings.

The inclusivity, enthusiasm and good ideas all bode well for KTH achieving its goals for the Future of Education, via different paths, in 2027 – just in time for our 200th anniversary.

A strategic approach to digitalization

Higher education as a sector must become far better at benefiting from the opportunities digitalization has to offer. While the sector has traditionally been strongly conservative, it also needs to be better at reaping the rewards of digital progress. See how we at KTH work with it.

On 22 November, KTH decided on its digitalization strategy  (in Swedish). KTH’s digitalisation strategy is based on the KTH digitalisation policy. The digitalisation policy, which I wrote about in the Vice President’s blog on 12 June 2020, explains how the concept of digitalization should be understood at KTH, and sets out the approach and principles that should apply to digitalization at KTH.

KTH’s digitalization strategy is the result of a comprehensive, structured and systematic work process. Assisted by outside experts, there have been a great many interviews with people in KTH’s operation, workshops with various leading bodies, benchmarking studies, and meetings with digitalisation managers from other universities. The strategy describes key strategic goals for KTH over the coming five-year period, and what conditions need to be met to ensure they are accomplished.

If an organisation is to be the best in the world at benefiting from the opportunities digitalization has to offer, its leaders must both support the work on strategies and invest resources in the change process. Beyond that, everyone in the organisation must then support the process by doing their part in bringing about change and evolution. The management can, after all, only lay the foundation for the change process; it’s the staff who have to adopt, understand and drive that change.

One of the most obvious development areas identified is the need for everyone to increase their digital skills. We rarely take the opportunity to improve our knowledge of how our digital tools work, or what we could achieve if we knew more about those tools. Or indeed the opportunity to increase our understanding of how to protect ourselves and our data, or of what actually happens when we interact with the system. This was particularly noticeable when the pandemic first hit, and we all quickly had to become adept at using digital tools for collaboration and video meetings.

There is huge potential in using digitalization, it really is a key issue for the entire sector. Realising this potential calls for courageous, effective leadership. Also commitment, desire and single-mindedness from staff and students alike. Are you ready to meet this challenge in your organisation?

Being among the first

Women have largely been invisible figures in written history, in virtually all areas. The serious consequence of this is that subsequent generations have thought that women never played a part in, say, research, politics and culture.

The phenomenon has been studied and tackled through new research since the 1970s. Previously invisible, and therefore forgotten, women and their deeds have been rediscovered and described. History has had to be rewritten, with new interpretations of events that have revealed other meanings, priorities and consequences. But the phenomenon of invisible women is not yet completely a thing of the past; many research questions remain to be asked regarding women’s significance in different contexts.

The women who have been belatedly recognised are often described in terms of being pioneers, among the first in their respective fields. They are set against a background of male dominance, and described in relation to a male norm. Quite often, these women have turned away and preferred not to be seen as the first woman – or as a woman at all. In research this is called a gender-neutral strategy, which often indicates that the woman in question is too busy surviving as a disruptor and an exception to also have time for the tough responsibility of being a feminist and an agent for change. This is fully understandable, but nevertheless a problem since such behaviour affirms and normalises male dominance.

So it always feels hopeful to read about or meet women who are not only pioneers but also support feminism. It proves that it is now possible to be both, and that gender equality has increased.

KTH President Sigbritt Karlsson is one example: the first woman president, and one who has also been a firm advocate of gender equality. The recently deceased Harriet Ryd, the first woman professor at KTH, is another example. She was an early advocate of gender equality at KTH and in society generally. In 2018, she was unforgettable when she helped open Malvinas Väg at KTH Campus by sharing her experiences with later generations of students and researchers.