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.