Broadening the base at KTH

What can KTH offer someone who lacks the formal qualifications to enrol on our university and Master of Science in Engineering degree courses? Is there a path to embark on an engineering study programme that also offers a second chance with the focus on problem solving, creative thinking and training in good study technique?

Absolutely. KTH offers an access programme course in the form of a foundation year course in technology and a foundation term in technology at the KTH Campus on Valhallavägen, KTH Flemingsberg and at KTH Södertälje. The courses are designed not only to give students entry qualifications for university and Master of Science in Engineering courses but also to provide training in problem solving, creative thinking and in good study technique.

Entry qualification, training and time on KTH campuses during the course are also excellent steps towards our Master of Science in Engineering courses for students who had not previously thought about studying engineering for whatever reason. Access programmes can therefore been seen as one of the many tools to broaden recruitment and broader participation.

Access programmes are also among the courses with the highest number of applicants per place at KTH. How well do these students then perform once they have started their engineering courses? Really excellently is the short answer. The completion rate within engineering courses is better than for other admission groups. As such, our access courses contribute to raising the quality of our engineering courses.

Tip of the week: Click on if you do not have the right entry qualifications to find out more about the foundation year and foundation term in technology. Please read interviews with our knowledgeable head of programme teachers within the access programme courses.

New steps for our sustainable development work

At the start of the year, we compiled a number of different indicators of how KTH is progressing with its sustainable development work. As part of this, a report on some of these has been compiled and submitted to the Swedish Environment Protection Agency Naturvårdsverket. Many of these indicators are pointing in the right direction, but there are also a few that are moving in the wrong direction. Here are some of the results:
  • The number of courses that are shown as environment or sustainability courses continues to grow.
  • There is a continuing increase in indicators of scientific publications and financing linked to sustainable development.
  • There has been a rise in the number of faculty services with a clear link to sustainable development in the subject or subject description. This is especially pleasing as they have had a tendency to fall for several years.
  • The indicator of KTH’s visibility in media when it comes to sustainable development continues to rise. Our international visibility increased in 2019.
  • Carbon dioxide emissions from air travel fell by 9 percent per employee between 2018 and 2019. This is the first time in several years that this has been the case. This is encouraging and hopefully can remain so in the coming years. We aim to reduce emissions by 20 percent between 2015 and 2020 ). To date, emissions have increased by 7 percent since 2015.
  • There has been a drop in the proportion of procurement processes that include some form of environment demands.
  • Foundation and donation capital managed on behalf of KTH is invested in 99.46 percent fossil fuel free assets.

These results show the breadth of KTH’s sustainable development work and the systematics behind it. This is not a temporary project or single initiative. It is long-term work that includes education, research, cooperation and our own effects. We are going to continue this work in 2020 and add new steps.

During the year, a more indepth review of our education and research goals will be performed. We are also going to set out new sustainability goals for the period 2021 and beyond. These will build on the climate goals that KTH resolved on last year and the work KTH is already doing. We believe universities, and universities of technology in particular, have a key role to play in the transition to a climate neutral and sustainable society. KTH aims to be a leading university of technology, and here, this also includes being a leader in sustainable development.

Tip of the week: Join us to discuss how universities of the future can contribute to Agenda 2030 and the global sustainable development goals. What needs to change and how should we structure our approach? New and old students, employees and everyone else interested in this issue are invited to attend workshops and discussions on 28 March. Apply here:

Is it too easy to cooperate with difficult countries?

Globalisation has meant universities have become increasingly international. There is a big market for international student recruitment at a time when many countries are becoming more ambitious when it comes to education and research and with this, seeking exchanges and cooperation.

At the same time, more and more warning cries are being heard that in many cases, universities are naïve in their view of international cooperation, especially when it comes to problematical countries, that is to say, countries that, in certain respects, do not share our values. How open or closed their political system is, academic freedom, views on equality, freedom of speech, the role of the media, are examples of issues that we are faced with, when considering entering into a partnership.

Is there a simple answer to the question of whether or not to go ahead with a partnership? No there isn’t. This is a complex issue and in one respect, it depends on the level of cooperation. Personal cooperation is generally acceptable, while a more extensive project can be more questionable. Is it acceptable to cooperate with regard to technology for sustainable development within energy, climate or medical technology, even with countries that do not meet our demands within other areas? Are we abandoning women in countries that are poor when it comes to gender equality if we decline to cooperate or does this send a strong signal?

A university such as KTH must naturally have a system in place to ensure that when we enter into partnerships, we satisfy all the formal requirements that are specified –  but this is not enough. We need to build up knowledge among lecturers, researchers and organisational support about how to address international project proposals. We need to work more closely with each other in a process where strategic decisions come to the table at an early stage. KTH has, together with STINT, KI and Lund University, produced a guide for international cooperation with the aim of helping us become better able to make the right assessments. It will be presented at a seminar on 23 March, see STINT.


What’s wrong a compliment?

In autumn 2017, we were reminded that sexual harassment not only occurs in front of the camera, but also behind the scenes. The way the #metoo movement swept the world, including Sweden, showed that sexual harassment happens in a variety of sectors and contexts. A similar hashtag, #akademiuppropet, also emerged in academia, which has led to a number of initiatives aimed at both preventing and dealing with cases of sexual harassment in a better way.

The #metoo movement raised numerous questions about what sexual harassment actually is and how it should be interpreted. There had been research into the area, but this had become somewhat forgotten in many instances.

Sexual harassment is a manifestation of inequality, similar to many other manifestations of inequality, such as salary differences and a lack of influence. An image of a stairway has been used to illustrate what sexual harassment can entail. More indirect and verbal manifestations are represented on the first step and more physical and violent manifestations are shown higher up the stairs.

Can an inappropriate comment about someone’s appearance or a sexual joke really be compared with sexual assault and rape? Yes. According to research, it is important to see how these different types of incidents go together when it comes to power relationships and the normalisation of male dominance in the culture of an organisation.

In a certain context, a compliment can signal belittling or objectifying while at the same time, demonstrate a pecking order where women are accorded less value. That a woman’s appearance is commented on in a professional context, rather than her performance or professional role, also legitimises this behaviour for other people in the room. In a research context, this is usually described as the male once-over being given legitimacy, which affects everyone present, but in different ways.

Sexual harassment also occurs in academia, unfortunately. To address this, KTH together with the Karolinska Institute and Malmö University, have developed a joint programme to combat sexual harassment and gender-based vulnerability. As part of this, a comprehensive questionnaire survey covering the entire university sector will be performed in 2020 to chart incidents of sexual harassment. Both students and employees will be asked to complete the questionnaire, which will give us better data for change work and to improve the way these types of cases are handled.

Quality goes together with development

How can a university continuously improve? How do we raise the quality of what we do?  If we want to be an internationally competitive university, we need to continuously work at this, to develop our education and research, maintain this high quality and at the same time, undergo regular renewal.

Those of us in research are used to being constantly scrutinised; ahead of every publication of research results, at every career step, when we apply for research project financing etc. So what’s the added-value of being audited at university level? It’s about building a dynamic quality structure. By casting the spotlight on larger areas that include many researchers and discussing what drives quality, we can achieve better supporting data when it comes to prioritising, investing in infrastructure and areas in need of renewal.

At KTH, we have a quality assurance system that consists of two main parts: a continuous annual review and a regular collegiate audit every six years divided into education and research. The continuous review is discussed in the annual quality dialogues chaired by the Dean. Like many other universities in Sweden, we have modified our system to harmonise it with the national quality assurance system.

This year, it is time for the regular collegiate audit. This means we have invited over 80 external experts to come and assess KTH’s quality development work within research in what we call RAE 2020 (Research Assessment Exercise). The aim of this RAE, the third we will have done at KTH, is to formulate visions and strategies that can lead to both increased quality and research at KTH having a greater impact. The overall goal is to describe, develop and enhance the quality of all research and its impact.

Even though we are a single faculty university, the different departments have different starting points and differ in the way high quality can be seen within different areas. As such, it is difficult to find a common approach to measuring quality. The departments therefore produce a self-assessment based on the knowledge and starting points for the research areas involved. These self-assessments should explain how each department contributes to achieving the KTH goals  and how this work can be improved. The external auditors should reflect on the content of the self-assessments that have been produced and provide feedback. They will also visit us in the last week of August for more detailed discussions and analysis.

The KTH departments are grouped into nine research panels to make it easier to identify synergies and common challenges. There will also be inter-departmental panels that will specifically focus on how cooperation, infrastructure and sustainable development contribute to identifying KTH’s common strengths and challenges.

Constructive feedback from top international researchers and experts outside KTH is expected to provide input for all departments in the development of their quality work. This should also give the University Board and University Management at all levels information to help the strategic development of future research at KTH.

This is a comprehensive task that will involve most researchers at KTH. If we are to become even better, it is vital that everyone is fully committed and that quality work is pursued at all levels.

Lifelong learning to be a good teacher

What does a university teacher need to learn? Is it enough to train to become a researcher, know your subject and been exposed to teachers through your entire education, to develop into a good teacher yourself?

Most people would probably say no, just as you obviously will not become a good surgeon after having undergone surgery yourself. It can be a good experience, however, but not enough by a long chalk. Nor is it enough to start operating at the sharp end without any kind of previous training, maybe even without any kind of guidance, cut a bit there, saw here, and then let’s see what happens… It’s just as obvious that surgeons need training for their profession as university teachers need it.

Teachers should both teach and research, it says in our development plan and that I blogged about last time. Such is a teacher’s profession as both a teacher and researcher. The profession of researcher is reached after a long education that concludes with third cycle education and then a few years afterwards to become a docent. The close connection between research and teaching helps you become a member of the teaching profession, not purely by developing a depth and breadth of knowledge in your subject, but also by viewing teaching as a research process with continuous development opportunities.

But like a surgeon that has studied anatomy but not surgery, that does not take you all the way. Teachers also need to study university pedagogics, the first 15 mandatory university credits and then via continuous professional development, ideally participating in education conferences and perhaps by offering contributions of your own to colleagues. View this as lifelong learning within the teaching profession.

 Tip of the week: Go to Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and Academic Teaching at KTH and look at everything KTH has to offer in this area. Also check out conferences for utbildningsutveckling (if you browse down you will find plenty to read here).