The meaning of words

We have been working on gender equality, diversity and equal conditions and opportunities issues for some time. What does this mean?

This is something many people outside KTH ask. Within KTH, we have given these issues the abbreviation JML from the Swedish words for them. I will come back to this abbreviation but would first like to start by looking at several other important concepts to increase understanding of the area. I am pretty often presented in public contexts and media as an equality researcher. Which makes me want to immediately stand up and correct this. The words have meanings and sometimes it is important to clarify differences.

The concepts that can be found in steering documents of various kinds at KTH are primarily gender and equality. For instance, papers have been written that knowledge and awareness about both these concepts should be integrated into education to enable students to contribute to a more equal society. Research in the area on the significance of gender can best go under the heading of gender research. As in research in general, gender research embraces a research field with theories, discussions of methods and scientific perspectives. It includes critical looks, peer reviews and dialogues. As a concept, equality is not an academic preserve, it comes from politics with strong roots in practice. Equality is a political goal and a vision.

Back to JML. It stands for gender equality, diversity and equal conditions in Swedish. At some point in the past, this abbreviation was created and spread internally, probably because it seemed practical and relevant as a heading for wide-ranging change work.

A funny thing happened to me recently on an internal leadership course, where I was invited to talk about the work we are doing on equality, diversity and equal conditions. A woman came up to me after the presentation and explained with a laugh that she knew how the abbreviation JML originally came about. She was namely the person who had proposed the name for a group at one of the KTH schools a few years earlier. Instead of calling themselves an equality group, they used JML group for short. The name stuck, spread and lived on. If anyone else would like to lay claim to it, please get in touch.

Input focuses on strategic issues

Every four years it is time to have our say on government research policy. This can pay off. One example of change that came after the last time KTH provided input in 2015 was that the law was changed such that the time for acquisition of qualifications posts  was extended from four to six years.

This time, we chose not to address many specific research initiatives, as in our experience, we have found that a long wish list does not get you very far. The government receives input from over 150 organisations to take into consideration.

So we focused on a number of strategic issues instead. Such as converting Strategic Research Areas (SRA) into permanent basic funding. The SRA structure, that was launched in 2010, has naturally created incentives for us universities to develop strong research fields within these areas where interdisciplinary partnerships are required to achieve excellence. Establishing such partnerships has enabled several multidisciplinary and internationally successful research fields to emerge.

This is shown by our rankings and we have been able to recruit top international researchers, connect them to a context and able to perform research within areas that the researchers themselves define. Making these SRA initiatives permanent contracts within the parameters of basic funding, would offer long-term stability where the universities are responsible for remaining at the forefront of knowledge within the areas identified.

One question that we raised in our input was what would happen if a research area falls between different research funding body priorities, such as fusion research. Around half the research into fusion in Sweden today is done at KTH, while Uppsala University and Chalmers are doing about a quarter each.

Via the EU, Sweden invests substantial sums in the development of fusion energy, where the two main commitments are the construction of the experimental ITER reactor in France and coordination of European EUROfusion, a consortium of national fusion research institutes in the EU, Switzerland and Ukraine. This is a joint co-fund project that also includes JET, the central research facility of the European Fusion Programme, based in England. The next EU framework programme Horizon Europe, has an increased focus on innovation and here there is a need to strengthen cooperation between Swedish and European industry.

The Swedish Research Council has signalled that it does not wish to continue to have responsibility for fusion research grants related to ITER and EUROfusion, however no other authority has taken over this responsibility. Nor is it clear where the responsibility for innovation within the fusion area resides. If we are to be able to attract researchers to this area such that we could leverage the opportunities of Swedish national undertakings in fusion research in the long term, I think a clear financing model is required together with some kind of national coordination between academia, industry and different authorities.

Something else that has happened on the KTH research front is that the expansion previously announced by the government with regard to research into technologies for digitalisation was included in this year’s budget bill.

 

Research+Education=True

What do we mean by the relationship between education and research? Is there more to this than incorporating current research into courses and offering students the opportunity to participate in research projects? Absolutely – much, much more.

The close relationship between teaching and research is at the very core of a university. One fundamental principle stated in Magna Charta Universitatum, that was signed in 1988 by 388 presidents, is that teaching and research at universities must not be separated if teaching is to be able to correspond to changed needs, social demands and scientific progress. The Higher Education Act (1992:1434) (HL) states in 1 Chap, 3§ that activities are to be pursued such that there is a close relationship between research and education.

To achieve KTH’s Vision 2027, the applicable development plan states that teachers should both teach and research. In a broad sense, everyone at KTH is actually engaged in teaching and/or research. For example, operations support is an integral part of these activities. Similarly, in a broad sense, cooperation, innovation and anything else we choose to focus on are also part of KTH’s education and research activities. As such, one could say, somewhat pointedly, that KTH only has one, tightly interwoven enterprise; research and education, two sides of the same coin.

Education and research are connected in many ways in addition to teachers being active in both contexts. In addition to the obvious way of incorporating new research findings into teaching and that a course is scientifically grounded and based on proven experience (according to HEA), students can participate in research projects. The latter already takes place to a large extent as the majority of KTH research is done within third cycle education and participation also occurs to a certain extent in second and first cycle education.

The research relationship can accordingly arise at both subject and process level; it is not only what but also how research is done that is related. One interesting observation in this context is how we and our students learn, in that we ourselves create and construct knowledge in the interaction with the world outside rather than as passive recipients of the same. This learning process varies from individual to individual and with the nature of the subject, which means that there is no preordained set and self-evident teaching process and this therefore becomes a process that must be continuously developed in courses and can be seen as a research process in its own right. I am firmly convinced that a teacher’s experience within research is an advantage here; of daring to experiment and actually not succeeding. There’s no success without failures.

The relationship also works in the other direction: the education connection to research extends from presentation technique – both written and oral; professional, systematic listening; adapting to the recipient in communication and inspiration from students and also from courses to the generating of new ideas for research and the conscious application of learning processes in research. Our teaching and research activities are truly interwoven.

Tip of the week: Attend the public discussion of a doctoral thesis where respondent Marie Magnell of the Department of Learning at ITM/KTH addresses both research and professional connections within the engineer curriculum and how this can be done in parallel: Engaged in a seamless blend: A study on how academic staff approach connections to professional practice and research in the engineering curriculum

Dare to meet online more often

Are online meetings ever going to be of a good enough quality?Is it possible to have a video conference or meeting online? There are countless systems available that require varying kinds of set up when it comes to installation, connection or implementation.

Plus, there’s often plenty more to be desired when it comes to the quality of such calls; freezing video, failing to screen-share, a long delay, or choppy audio, due to a poor network connection or a lack of bandwidth which means you cannot get an image on screen or follow a presentation during the call. Why do conference calls not work as they are supposed to? The user instructions can be complicated, not user-friendly or incorrect, a poor connection can prevent a high quality conversation. Or a lack of full duplex technology, that is to say technology that allows communication in both directions, and a lack of an inclusive meeting culture that enables a good experience online.

Even Sweden’s Minister for Digitalisation does not allow digital participation in Digitalisation Council meetings, for the simple reason that they don’t trust the technology in their experience. And if someone like him who is supposed to lead the way doesn’t do it, who then should?

However, there are a few rays of hope on the horizon that suggest digital meetings can work well in the future. On 29 September, the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ) arranged a “Virtual Conference on the Development of University Pedagogics” for which 500 people registered via Zoom.

I personally found myself in the west coast archipelago, one of the less connected places in Sweden, to enjoy the start of the lobster season that weekend. Everything exceeded my expectations; the speeches via digital media, quizzes that resulted in word clouds, questionnaire questions and chaired chats for Q&A sessions and discussions. Lunch with break exercises, gymnastics or a lunch à deux to forge new acquaintances online all worked. The conference was skilfully chaired by the Swedish network for IT in Higher Education (ITHU) and SUNET that made sure speaker microphones were unmuted and that we were included in hives. The format persuaded me to take an active part, ever ready to offer some input or make a comment, instead of checking my email or doing something else on the side.

Pretty soon, I think we are going to be able to hold more meetings digitally than IRL. This will be a necessity if we are to be able to become a more sustainable society and reduce the amount of travel and at the same time enable us to become more effective. Current problems with technology will be a thing of the past. Sound and image quality will give us the same feeling of closeness and affinity as at a physical meeting. But how are we going to reach that point? As organisations we must put high demands on the usability of technology – you should be able to launch a conversation with one click.

The technology should work with all devices and not require any additional installations. Everyone must learn how to use the technology in video conferences, how to get connected and how to troubleshoot when problems arise. Plus, we need to learn how to chair and participate in digital meetings. We need to work together to all become better at organising these meetings and quite simply to dare start using and learning how to hold a good meeting online.

How industry can become climate neutral

Greenhouse gas emissions from heavy industry are being discussed more and more. This is good because it is a necessary part of a transition to a climate neutral society. Industry can adopt several different strategies to achieve this.
  • New manufacturing processes. Perhaps the most widely known example is to use hydrogen from fossil fuels instead of coal in steel production. Development work with big potential is being pursued here. (https://www.dn.se/debatt/med-stod-kan-vi-tidigarelagga-satsningen-pa-fossilfritt-stal/). Similar work also needs to be done within other industries. However, it is important to bear in mind that this takes time. A demonstration site for fossil fuel free steel production can be ready by 2025 and fossil fuel free steel can then be widely available by 2035.
  • More efficient materials. Just as industry is working with energy efficiency measures, work should similarly be continuously done to make materials more efficient. There is big potential to save materials in areas such as house building and vehicle manufacturing. One problem here, however, is that the cost of materials is often a pretty limited proportion of the sticker price the end customer sees. As such, there are no great financial incentives to go down this route.
  • Using bio-based raw materials. If bio-based materials are produced in a sustainable way, plastic manufacturing, timber housing and biofuels for heavy goods vehicles and aircraft, can reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. However, biofuels are in limited supply and there’s not enough to go round for everything. Here too, it can take time to develop new production processes.
  • Circular solutions. As a rule of thumb, re-using and recycling materials leads to reduced emissions of greenhouse gases. However, this cannot be the only solution as there is a limit to the amount of material that can be recycled. Here too, it can also take time to develop new processes and regulatory frameworks.
  • “Carbon Capture and Storage” (CCS). The technology to capture and store carbon dioxide is well-known, but has only been tried to a limited extent on a large scale. It can be an interesting alternative for processing industry and waste combustion in particular, and to create so-called negative emissions if these are used in association with the combustion of biofuels. It is important that here too, developing it on a large scale is started to be able to test and evaluate the pros and cons of CCS.

The brief review above shows that there are several different strategies available that can be used. Heavy industry is therefore facing an exciting development period that will call for plenty of talented engineers. At the same time, it is worth noting that all strategies have limitations and that it will take time before they gain complete penetration. This is shown in the eagerness to get started, however, society also needs to look at other strategies as well. These include investigating scope to reduce demand for emission intensive products and materials.

Tip of the week: KTH Sustainability Research Day den 28/11 is almost fully booked. Register here https://www.kth.se/om/miljo-hallbar-utveckling/event/kth-sustainability-research-day-28-november-2019-1.901445) as soon as possible.

Anna Wahl on equality

Vice President for Gender equality and values and Professor in Gender, organization and management

In this blog I will write about norms, power and leadership and how they relate to each other. But also about how to work in everyday life for increased gender equality and how to take the temperature of an organization’s culture and work environment.