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Innovation an even greater focus when universities are compared internationally

One always relevant question is what is a university with a high reputation measured on. Research and education are the main tasks of a university and naturally the first things that are compared. Collaboration is something we like to talk about here in Sweden, not least from a political direction.

One very common assertion is that universities should increase the optimisation of their research in particular and that this should be enabled by greater collaboration. This should absolutely not be underestimated and valuable initiatives are performed, but sometimes it would seem that collaboration in itself is more important than what it actually results in, however. Being able to measure the value of collaboration in some way is also difficult, if perhaps not even possible.

How do things look internationally? There too, education and research weigh heaviest, but one tendency that appears to be growing ever stronger is a sharply increased focus on the innovation capacity of a university. This is a recurring theme in association with international meetings where different approaches are compared and university managements almost compete to be successful.

As Vice President for Global Relations, I take great pride in KTH’s ability in this respect. KTH is not the biggest but is one of the very best and I always include a couple of images in my presentations of KTH. We have an innovation support system that works very well and successfully that is aimed at all KTH people, from researchers to students and that each year provides support to over 300 new proposals to develop their ideas. KTH Innovation is quite simply world class.

It is therefore incredibly pleasing that the KTH Innovation Award has been established with the support of several of our most successful innovators. This genuinely underlines KTH’s high ambitions when it comes to innovation. The award winner will receive SEK 500,000 and there is still time to nominate candidates at www.kth.se/innovationaward. One requirement is that candidates must have a connection with KTH.

Many questions concerning the integration of gender equality

Why should knowledge about gender equality and diversity be integrated into KTH study programmes? And how should this be done?
These have been recurring questions in the last few weeks. The answers can be found in several of the KTH steering documents.

Many of the questions are tangential to the content that is to be covered within sections of the programme. When it comes to the question of why this is to be done at a university of technology, the answer can be found in several steering documents, such as the business plan for KTH 2021 (V-2020-0856) where it states that KTH has a goal of making knowledge and awareness of gender and equality an integral part of all study programmes, such that after graduating, students should be able to contribute to a more equal society.

Will this be done at the expense of something else that is perhaps more important in the study programme is another recurring question.

Only a very limited section will be mandatory for everyone within the parameters of a course, at some point during the entire length of the programme.

For example, this can consist of a two-hour lecture, a shorter text or some other form of knowledge top-up, which are entirely normal changes that are made within programmes all the time to update and improve the programme in different ways. Students will be examined on the section within the parameters of the credits for the course.

The programme director will choose an appropriate form of integration and how this is connected to the relevant area of technology. In other words, it is not a case of an entire course or even a module (which several programmes have already introduced).

Why gender equality rather than equality is another reccurring question.

The section includes things like knowledge about what the different concepts mean and how they can be connected to sustainable development. Knowledge about how gender equality and equality can be related to technological development and social development is also included. Many people ask themselves what equality and gender equality have to do with technology, which is something that also needs to be explained in the programme.

At KTH, development work is being done on the when and how where programme managers, researchers and representatives of sustainable development will participate. The Director of First and Second Cycle Education and the Director of Third Cycle Education are identifying the ten programmes that are to be the first in each school to take part in this integration work in 2021.

Broader recruitment a must for increased quality

Right now the Swedish Higher Education Authority is engaged in a thematic evaluation of the work being done by universities and colleges to broaden recruitment. One important result of this investigation will be the good examples universities are able to present. We can all learn from each other.

According to the Higher Education Act (1992:1434, 1 chap. 5 §), universities are to actively promote and broaden recruitment to their university. This is not merely a question of fairness and democracy, it is above all a matter of quality.

Research shows that universities have a big potential to recruit even more suitable students by broadening their recruitment. For example, surveys show that students with very good grades in upper secondary school from non-academic home backgrounds are far less likely to continue to higher education than students with less good grades from academic home environments. There is still a considerably large social distortion at KTH and we have a great deal to gain from evening out recruitment. The same applies to other underrepresented groups.

Our current development plan states that KTH should be perceived as open and welcoming to outstanding individuals, irrespective of gender, gender expression, ethnicity, religion, disabilities, sexuality or age. Furthermore, students and personnel at KTH ought to be representative of society in general with regard to factors such as gender, socio-economic background and ethnic origin. And we are far from that today. Not least when it comes to the proportion of female students and professors. But also the proportion of male administrative support personnel.

Broader recruitment is quite simply working to recruit individuals regardless of their background. If we success with such equalising efforts, KTH will better reflect the groups in our society. Bearing in mind the fact that there are numerous groups that are underrepresented at KTH, this can seem like an impossible task at first sight. Fortunately, the structural barriers are often generic. If we manage to remove one barrier, this will help several underrepresented groups.

If such broadened recruitment is to be successful we also need to broaden participation. This means that KTH must adapt its educational activities to also suit individuals from broader student groups. This can concern, for instance, accessibility for people with disabilities, scheduling during normal working hours and eliminating implicit, unspoken entry requirements. The latter can for example, be language requirements and structures for reports, things that students from academic backgrounds often get feedback on at home. The entry requirements needed for a course should quite simply have been part of earlier education. Plus teaching in different types of study techniques. Another important aspect is the need for role models.

If KTH were to reflect society in general, our students would find their role models, someone they can identify with. Even if you are the first person in your family to go to university, a wheelchair user, or non-binary. Very important.

Will we succeed? Definitely. The good examples we are already working with, the new lessons we learn from the thematic evaluation and the intensified work moving forward will pave the way for this. What’s more, the intensified work we are doing with gender equality, diversity and equal terms and conditions at KTH, is laying a good foundation for this.

The high quality at KTH will become even higher.

Digitalisation is business development

In the 1990s, the word computerisation was commonly used to describe developments that were happening in the workplace. In retrospect, you could say that computerisation meant adding computers and other technology to a business in the belief that this would make it more efficient, but without affecting the business in itself.

Developing a business was something completely separate to the computer systems that were installed to support the business. However, as early as the 1960s, an American psychologist, Harold J. Leavitt, had argued that to understand how to be able to create change, you need to understand the interplay between people, the business (that is to say the tasks that are to be performed), the organisation (the structure in accordance with which you work) and technology.

Four wheels illustrating interaction for change.oop
The interaction between these is crucial for the development of a business.

When we use the concept of digitalisation today, I would argue that this should be understood in exactly the same way as business development. This is in order to establish that it is not technology development per se that is the important thing, but how the business can be developed, with technology development as a driving force.

Many people appreciate this explanation, maybe before they experienced computerisation that did not take into account how businesses would be affected.

Digitalisation focuses on defining entirely new ways of doing things, or perhaps that you should do entirely new things. Even though it is not uncommon when people say that they want to bring digitalisation know-how into a business development project, to hear: “…but we have not reached that stage in the project yet, we need to first discuss what kind of business we want to have in the future, and only then will we come onto digitalisation issues”.

 I think it is of the utmost importance that digitalisation aspects and know-how within digital transformation are included in every business development project from the very start. Why so?

In principle, there is not a single business today that does not need a great deal of IT to enable it to function and as such, you need to take these aspects into account from the beginning. Digitalisation as a development paradigm means innovative new ways of resolving business development issues compared to before.

Digitalisation advocates agility, that is to say, being able to quickly deliver a genuine value in a change in order to be then able to build knowledge about what the business needs. Digitalisation also assumes an iterative approach, that is to say, working with constant improvement. Methods for digital transformation are often based on and involve users at an early stage and continuously in development.

Today, you can no longer talk about business development without digitalisation playing a key role. Digitalisation IS business development.

Reading tip of the week: In the age of the smart machine 1988 by Shoshana Zuboff.

From smorgasbord to verksamhet: Many people say that English is one of the richest languages in the world , but I would claim that Swedish is the richest language when it comes to bureaucratic terminology. The Swedish word verksamhet is not easy to translate to English. In this text the word business has been chosen that many people associate to commercial activities. Other synonyms could be work, which more associates to the tasks done in the business or organization which in this text more refers to the structure of the business.

I would hope that English could consider importing the word verksamhet to their language just as they have imported ombudsman or smorgasbord, because no other concept captures the richness of the Swedish word verksamhet.

Why equality and sustainability go hand in hand

Gender Equality is goal number five in the UN global sustainable development goals and Reduced Inequalities is goal 10.  This is one of the reasons why gender equality is now included in KTH’s new sustainable development objectives.

Gender equality is about a fair division of power, influence and resources, and about the human right to live a life free from discrimination and violence. Research shows how political, financial and social equality contribute to all dimensions of sustainable development. Gender equality and equality affect other objectives concerning the climate, environment and economy (Report from Swedish Environmental Protection Agency 2019 in Swedish).

For example, women prioritise environment issues to a greater extent than men, both in the value they put on this, and in their actions.

The poorest members of society are hardest hit by climate change as they have far more limited financial assets. In the workplace, greater gender equality can help to increase quality and efficiency, which both contribute to economic sustainability. What are the advantages of KTH making the link between equality work and working towards sustainable development more visible?

One advantage will be in the way we can integrate knowledge about equality and diversity into our degree programmes by using sustainable development as the entry point, where intended learning outcomes are already in place. The connection between equality and sustainability can be demonstrated and provide supporting arguments why this is important for both societal and technological development.

Technological development can recreate inequality in the absence of knowledge, but armed with knowledge, we can challenge and change unequal conditions.

Are there any risks associated with equality being perceived as “only” one part of sustainable development? Several researchers have pointed to the risk of the equality objective possibly becoming overshadowed as an objective in its own right and only seeming to be a means to something else. That risk should not be underestimated, we have seen this happen before when equality is given a lower priority and subordinated to other issues.

But with this in mind, we are continuing to work to increase equality as an issue in its own right and as part of sustainable development.

 

Lifelong learning to suit everyday life

We are now expanding work with our lifelong learning by intensifying relationships with our strategic partners within contract education. A partnership that is going to be very instructive.

As I blogged recently KTH has ambitious aims of growing within lifelong learning and I also offered very powerful reasons for this. We have now gone up yet another gear in this work.

Our traditional way of thinking about education at KTH has long been in the form of programmes and courses. Our courses are typically worth 7.5 HE credits each and often include activities in the form of lectures, exercises, seminars, project work and lab work scheduled over the days of the week. In turn, these courses are intended to follow a programme progression that ultimately leads to a specific degree. A reasonable format for the education of young engineers, teachers and architects, viewed from a historical perspective. A format that is easy for government powers to measure and pay us accordingly for.

This offers predictability and a certain sense of security for students, together with a social context as most elements are normally based at the various KTH campuses. However, for someone who also has a full-time job and possibly a family, this format with direct government funding for continuing professional development, is often not compatible with their situation and everyday life.

The same applies to contract education for both the public and private sectors, other organisations, and their employees. What we have traditionally offered in the form of contract education can often be described as formal courses that very largely follow the programme course format. However, formal courses only account for a small proportion of continuous learning for working professionals, probably no more than ten percent while the rest is made up of more informal learning.

To move forwards, we need to intensify relationships with our strategic partners within contract learning and adapt the format more in line with the way working professionals learn. One current example is our partnership with Scania where we are developing new formats together that are compatible with lifelong and continuous learning for such students, for the sake of both their own development and their company. Formats that we can package as clearly defined learning activities that are also attractive for our teachers to engage in.

Do I think this will affect the education KTH offers in general? “Yes, very much so. And this development is probably both unavoidable and desirable. We have plenty to learn from each other.”

Thank you and best of luck messages for the week. Thank you to Scania’s departing CEO Henrik Henriksson who has personally supported the educational partnership between KTH and Scania, and the best of luck in the important sustainability work to lead the switch from tradition steel manufacturing to a sustainable fossil fuel free alternative. Best of luck also to Christian Levin, Chair of the KTH University Board, who is taking over as CEO at Scania. I look forward to a continued good educational partnership.