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Lifelong learning is really stepping up at KTH

We are now working intensively to expand contract education and direct government funded continuing professional development. Having previously comprised just one percent, what is often collectively called lifelong learning will reach 20 percent of the total volume of education at KTH within the next few years.

This ambitious target is based on rapid developments in technology often causing disruptive shocks. In other words, they bring about radical changes. It is therefore extremely likely that on completion of their degree programme at the age of 25, a student will need to come back, once or several times, to continue their professional development at KTH or enrol in contract education.

Not only to broaden and build on their skills set but also to learn new disciplines. This will be important for Sweden’s competitiveness. KTH is particularly well suited to contribute to lifelong learning as education and research are closely connected to each other at KTH. Innovative new research fields and their solutions can be implemented in study programmes relatively easy here.

In addition to reviewing programme courses that can be offered as part of lifelong learning, we are also looking to review opportunities to modularise courses. In other words, to enable students to enrol in courses in smaller modules so they can learn more specific parts of a course in a shorter period. We are also working on courses and packages of courses within contract education with our strategic and other partners. We are establishing a more effective organisation for lifelong learning and looking to increase learning opportunities via digitalisation.

We are grateful that the government has implemented specific initiatives within direct government funded continuing professional development during Covid-19 as the degree programmes KTH has produced have exceeded our funding cap for several years. This has previously made it difficult for us to offer direct government funded continuing professional development other than on a very small scale.

For this initiative to be sustainable and long-running, the funding cap must be raised. This would enable us to employ more teachers and maintain the link with research. We can also maintain and expand the integration of direct government funding for continuing professional development in our current degree programmes. Otherwise, these specific initiatives risk purely becoming no more than a temporary side line with weak connections to both research and degree programmes.

From digital meetings to digital space

Over the last few years, the Christmas present of the year has often been a digital device – headphones, fitness bracelets, VR headsets or robot vacuum cleaners. More recently however, when it comes to Christmas, there has been something of a protest against all things digital.

In 2018, apparel from recycled materials won the accolade, in 2019 it was mobile security boxes – where you can store your mobile devices to enjoy some digital downtime. Something that can perhaps be described as digital related,  but whose purpose is to enable you to escape from the digital world. What is the favourite this year? Camping stoves – back to nature. About as far away from the digital world as you can imagine.

And while for us, digitalisation is mainly a medium for doing something, more often than not in recent times, it has come to stand in the foreground and even to get in the way of what we actually want to achieve. As a consequence, we have an urge to free ourselves from digital technology away from work.

This has become particularly apparent in these Corona times. We are missing out on personal face to face contact, we are understimulated when it comes to getting out and about in nature – which is often the case in the dark days of November – where snow remains conspicuous by its absence. Nor can we dream of going skiing or some exotic travel destination in the immediate future as the way things look right now. I expect many people are dreaming of the Christmas holidays as an opportunity for a digital detox, as digital tools have generally come to be associated with work.

However, we are facing a different kind of Christmas. A Christmas where we may have to reassess our social behaviour patterns. A Christmas where perhaps, we especially need to rethink how we should interface with our older friends and relatives with whom we normally socialise. In which case, digital tools can be a way of involving everyone, and helping people to feel less lonely.

When I stepped into the bedroom of one of my children not too long ago, I could see that a video meeting was in progress. Not in the sense that there was an ongoing dialogue – nobody was in the room at the time, but they were connected just in case they happened to walk by each other. A way of expanding the physical room with the aid of digital space. An opening for informal meetings rather than a planned conversation.

Bear this in mind over Christmas, when many people, especially the elderly, cannot be there with us. You don’t always need to talk, it is perhaps enough to connect rooms together, so if anyone happens to walk past and meet, they can exchange a few spontaneous words that help reduce the sense of isolation. A digital meeting room as a way to escape loneliness in a Corona safe way.

Five years since the Paris Agreement

Everyone alive today can expect to witness big changes. The students we educate at KTH will manage the changes that climate challenges bring throughout their entire professional lives. They will work both to reduce emissions and adapt society to the climate changes that will happen even if we achieve the Paris Agreement targets. All sectors, industry, transport, housing, food supply, will be affected. Some more so, some less so.

The Paris Agreement was written almost exactly five years ago. Since then, emissions have continued and levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have increased. To stabilise the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and slow the rise in temperatures, carbon dioxide emissions need to come down to almost zero.

Dealing with the climate issue is a long-term undertaking. But it also means we need to act in the short-term. For every year we postpone cutting emissions, the more drastic the measures that will be needed further down the line. Globally, emissions need to be reduced by around 6-8 percent per year to be in line with the Paris Agreement. Many people argue that countries such as Sweden, that has already given off plenty of carbon dioxide emissions per person, ought to accept its responsibility and cut emissions faster so countries that have not released as much and that need to continue to build housing, industry and infrastructure can be given a bit more time to adjust. In which case, emissions need to be reduced by maybe 12-15 percent annually.

For a university such as KTH, this means we need to think in both the short and the long-term. The education we offer needs to prepare students for the changes that are going to happen. Our research needs to develop solutions in the form of new systems and products that are in line with the climate goals. And in our own organisation, we need to reduce emissions at least in line with the goals and undertakings of the rest of society.

This is also the background to the Climate Framework that we, together with Chalmers and other universities around the country adopted last year, and that most universities have signed up to. This means that we undertake to work in both the short and the long-term to be in line with national and international undertakings and goals. Chalmers and KTH also received an award from the International Sustainable Campus Network for this initiative. Almost exactly a year ago, KTH took decisions on climate goals and general measures that have both short-term goals (by 2020) and long-term goals (many of which extend to 2045). It is important that we now work with these goals, adhere firmly to the measures that have been resolved on and introduce new ones as and when necessary.

Tip of the week: I have written an article about what technology is needed to cut emissions to zero, in the Swedish weekly magazine Ny Teknik. Here is the link to the article:

Equality without substance

Yes, this is important. But, isn’t it a bit of an old chestnut? It is so problem oriented, would it not be better to see the opportunities? I have never noticed anything, it’s about being good at your job and strong, then things will work out well.

These are the kinds of thoughts that can be said when I offer courses in equality. When they are aired, they can be a big help in gaining an understanding of the problems.

As a gender researcher, I have often been involved in different types of courses, that are often aimed at helping to increase equality in society in general, in a certain sector, or for a specific professional group. I am used to facing objections as to what equality means. Expectations are often positive, especially if those attending have come of their own free will. They hope to gain practical tips on change work and methods that deliver the best results. However, expectations can be pretty negative on certain occasions, or at best ambivalent.

Young women can often say that they would like to know what earlier generations of women did wrong, and in so doing, learn how they should get things right this time.

Many men, of different ages, can express their thoughts through silence. It can be a matter of having the unpleasant feeling of being unfairly accused as a man. A feeling that can create a silent, but tangible sense of resistance. Silence can also mean the perception that this is nothing to do with them, it doesn’t concern me. One attitude, that is common among senior managers and executives, is that the issue is so narrow, it needs to be broadened to become interesting.

Researchers can quite simply ask what has this got to do with science? All these notions are of benefit when they are raised, such that knowledge and reflection can take the conversation forwards. But, if they are not expressed, this can hinder learning. The thought that equality is so narrow, often changes when managers complete a whole programme.

At the end of virtually every management programme that has included knowledge about gender and equality, both men and women, but especially men, are occupied with the insight that equality is about much, much more. It is that big a subject. Strategy, leadership, scientific quality, organisational culture, democratic values, sustainability, innovation and development, to name just a few….


Exciting second half for T.I.M.E and KTH

Since the meeting in Paris last autumn, KTH has chaired the T.I.M.E Association, an international education network, that consists of 57 universities of technology from 25 countries spread around much of the world, all with a strong international approach.  We are chair for two years and have now reached the halfway point of our tenure.

Our focus has been on writing a vision for T.I.M.E. (Top International Managers in Engineering) with a ten-year horizon and associated goals. In addition to supporting international cooperation between members in a broad sense, the network is continuing its cooperative efforts to promote more international double degree students, i.e. students that complete two degrees, primarily at advanced level.  The latter was also the main reason the network was established 31 years ago at the École Centrale Paris when KTH was a founder member along with 15 other leading universities of technologies.

The idea of double degree students was seen as daring and at the 30th Anniversary gathering last autumn, many of the founder members talked about the resistance to the idea they encountered, not least when it came to national legislation and regulations, when different national and local systems had to be amended to cater for these students. Even so, they came to the conclusion that it would be worth it not to give up.  And with all the wonderful experiences of these incredibly talented students, we can only wholeheartedly agree. The Director General of the European Space Agency, the then President of founder member Technische Universität Darmstadt in Germany, emphasised the importance of extensive experience of international cultural exchanges along with a deep and broad knowledge of technology for engineering students and learning to see several perspectives at the same time and the importance of international network building.

We have, together with the Secretary General who is based in Paris and the Management Board consisting of Universidad Politecnica de Madrid, Université Libre de Bruxelles and CentraleSupélec (in addition to KTH), worked in parallel to broaden the aims of the network to also embrace educational partnerships with the enterprise sector, cooperation within doctoral studies and to promote a broader international partnership to contribute to the 17 global goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

I am pleased that the vision was unanimously adopted in practice by the members at an online meeting a few weeks ago. The next meeting in 2021 will be held outside Europe, either physically or remotely – a good way to show that good international cooperation extends far beyond Europe alone. At this same meeting, KTH will also stand down as chair, as a member of the  Management Board and Advisory Board, the latter consisting of 13 universities from ten countries around the world. I am looking forward with confidence to what we can achieve in the second half.

Tip of the week: Take a look at the T.I.M.E Association website for more information and inspiration.

How effective are our meetings?

I was invited to two important meetings not long ago that were both held at exactly the same time. It was simply impossible for me to choose one meeting over the other so I decided to attend both meetings, one meeting on my iPad in one ear and the other with my laptop in the other ear. I told both meetings that I was taking part in two meetings and that I would freeze my screen when I was speaking at the other meeting.  It exceeded all expectations.

I felt that I had picked up the majority of what was said at both meetings. I was even able to take information about decisions that were made in one meeting with me to the other meeting. The people in the meetings I have spoken to said that, rather than getting the impression I was absent, they felt I was very much an active participant. One conclusion to draw from this is that the density of content at the meetings we hold is not so high that it prevents you from fully taking in what is happening at two meetings.

I have since spoken with many colleagues about my experiences and found that it is by no means uncommon for people to be involved in several meetings, even though not many of them admit this out loud. People have said that, for example, they have participated in a webinar or a course for which attendance is mandatory, while they were actually at a different meeting or were listening to a Master thesis presentation at the same time.

I have tried several different situations of parallel participation and I can draw several conclusions from my experiments.

  • It helps if the meetings you are involved in use PowerPoint to reinforce the presentation, as it is easier to keep track of where you are when what is being said is also supported by PowerPoint.
  • It helps if the meetings are in the same language.
  • It is hard to deal with incoming email during the course of a meeting when you are attending several meetings.
  • It is harder to be involved in several meetings if each meeting has a small number of participants.

I do not want to use this as an argument for participating in several meetings at the same time. But, that you can ask what role a meeting plays in the work we are doing, how well prepared and structured are such meetings? Is it a good meeting that is well planned if you can participate in several meetings at the same time? Are the right people at a meeting if there are so many participants that you do not have the opportunity to make that many contributions? Is the meeting primarily about communicating information that could just as easily be sent in writing?

In other words, could perhaps the fault lie less in the digital meeting tools and more in the way we use them?