Nine years leading Uppsala University

10 December 2020

Anders Malmberg and Eva Åkesson with a plant wall in the background

Deputy Vice-Chancellor Anders Malmberg and Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson has worked closely together for nine years now and can look back on an interesting and varied time.

Soon they will be passing the baton to the next university management. Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson and Deputy Vice-Chancellor Anders Malmberg can look back on an interesting and varied time after nine years in the leadership of Uppsala University.

These are busy days at the University Management Office before the traditional succession ceremony to inaugurate a new Vice-Chancellor on 18 December. Even though activities will roll along as usual when Anders Hagfeldt and Coco Norén take charge, it is important that the process run smoothly.

“We want to leave a well-set table so to avoid a messy transition. It should be understandable and orderly. The final thing we want to try to conclude is the University Board’s assignment to produce a revised appointments procedure, so we are working intensively to achieve this,” says Eva Åkesson.

We meet in her study at the top of the Segerstedt Building. Eva Åkesson and I are sitting at the table and Anders Malmberg has settled down in an armchair at a safe social distance. This change of Vice-Chancellor will be unlike those in the past due to the coronavirus restrictions, but it will be available to viewers online.

Are there any highlights you particularly remember when you look back on your nine years as Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor?
“Recently, we have visited, either physically or online, several of our interdisciplinary initiatives and centres, such as the new AI4Research project and the WoMHeR network of senior researchers. We have also been to Gotland and met the director of the new graduate school for sustainable development, which starts after the New Year. We are proud and happy about the work the disciplinary domains have done with interdisciplinary initiatives,” says Eva Åkesson.

“On the education side, we have been involved in fostering a fairly strong renewal of the courses and programmes offered by the University. If you think about our range of international Master’s programmes, there has been an enormous development. This is something we are very proud of,” says Anders Malmberg.

Reception for international master scholarship recipients 2017 with Deputy Vice-Chancellor Anders Malmberg in the middle of the front row. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

One obvious development is the increase in the number of international students. In 2011, when the fees for international students were introduced, we had about 50 fee-paying students; now there are a thousand. Anders Wall and the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation have made a generous donation to international students and this collaboration has now been extended.

“It is crucial that we have more scholarships, and we have also used funds from our own foundations to help fee-paying students, who have had a hard time during the coronavirus pandemic. This is why Anders and I have said we would prefer not to receive any personal gifts on our departure. Instead of buying flowers for us, make a small donation to scholarships for our international students.”

Other highlights over the years have been all the international networks in which Uppsala University has participated. European networks such as the Guild of European Research Intensive Universities, U4S and, most recently, Enlight have provided greater insight into the European Union’s research policy. But collaborations outside Europe have also flourished, such as the collaboration between Swedish and South African universities within the South Africa–Sweden University Forum (SASUF).

At the local level, contacts have been strengthened with the municipality and the region, especially now in 2020 with close contacts regarding infectious disease control and restrictions. There are also several joint projects, such as discussions on external contacts, politician breakfasts, the Uppsala Health Summit and the work on the Development Plan 2050.

“We have worked a lot to strengthen the University’s local and regional ties, and today have very well-developed relationships both in Uppsala and on Gotland,” says Anders Malmberg.

This is exemplified in the fact that Eva Åkesson received an honorary medal from Uppsala Municipality.

Welcome reception for students on Campus
Gotland 2018, with Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson
on horseback. Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

Since 2013 Campus Gotland has also been part of Uppsala University. In December 2011, just before Eva Åkesson and Anders Malmberg took office, the Vice-Chancellors of Gotland University and Uppsala University signed a letter of intent to merge. To make this a reality, intensive work ensued.

“Developments on Campus Gotland are going very well, if you look at the number of students on campus and teachers with PhDs. Confidence and trust in Uppsala University’s long-term commitment on Gotland is strong. And without clear political support from Region Gotland, we would not have been able to be so successful.”

The Vice-Chancellor duo has worked closely together for nine years now and they know each other well. Their partnership is characterised by discussions, and they often approach the issues that arise from different starting points, explains Åkesson.

“It has been good. Take this situation with the pandemic, where it is very clear that I have a different way of reacting than Anders has. This spring I was more worried while Anders assessed the situation more calmly. Based on our different points of view, we can look at issues from different angles, dare to play devil’s advocate, explore the alternatives and then end up in a well-balanced decision or position.”

This deliberative approach includes not only the Vice Chancellor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, but the entire University Management Council with its students and Vice-Rectors.

“I want to thank them for all the good meetings we have had over the years and for the extra Management Council meetings I have called upon them for with one hour’s notice, such as ahead of the coronavirus decision. As Vice-Chancellor, I am to consult with the Management Council before important decisions. It is perhaps the University’s most important body, where the disciplinary domains, students and the administration meet.”

Eva Åkesson also would like to highlight the Advisers to the Vice-Chancellor who have worked on important issues for the University, such as equal opportunities, research infrastructure, internationalisation, good research practice, Campus Gotland and sustainable development.

“I am so impressed by our student representatives. They really make a difference! They are knowledgeable about the issues and well-read. They make demands and drive things forward. Many things would not have happened without them.”

She goes to her office and looks for a piece of paper bearing the logo of the students’ unions. It is a “wish list” that the students on the University Management Council submitted when she took over as Vice-Chancellor.

“I have carried it with me all these years, even htough some issues have become irrelevant, and it is no coincidence that I still have it. For me, it has been a reminder to listen to the students in a wise way.”

Turning the first sod for the expansion at the Ångström Laboratory, Nya Ångström, in October 2018. From left: project director Hayar Gohary, Akademiska Hus; Vice-Rector Johan Tysk; Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson; Deputy Division Manager Charlotte Thelm, NCC.

These nine years have been characterised by great growth at the University – and it has the potential to become even larger. In the autumn of 2020, the courses and study programmes expanded to include 1,500 new study places as part of the government’s education initiative.

The University has also expanded physically, with new buildings such as the Segerstedt Building, the Humanities Theatre and expansion of the Ångström Laboratory. Meanwhile, the University Main Building and Carolina Rediviva have been extensively renovated.

“Growth has changed the University, but the fact that we have grown has not lowered our standards. Most of the growth has involved research, while the volume of our courses and study programmes has not changed as much. If we could make a wish, we would restore the balance to two-thirds research and one-third education. The potential for that exists, both in terms of availability of teachers and student demand,” says Malmberg.

Much of the expansion in research has come from external grants. The basic resources of the University have not increased; rather, it has become more dependent on external funding.

“We would like the basic funding to be at least 50 per cent of total research funding. We need that if the University is to have reasonable strategic planning and to offer reasonable career paths.”

Inauguration of Navet, SciLifeLab's new premises at BMC in April 2014. From left: Minister for Education Jan Björklund, Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, Co-director at SciLifeLab and Vice-Chancellor Eva Åkesson.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

Something that has also grown in importance during this period is research infrastructure. SciLifeLab, the Swedish National Infrastructure for Computing (SNIC), the Uppsala Conflict Data Programme (UCDP) and the FREIA Laboratory are some examples of facilities used by researchers throughout Sweden, and in some cases also abroad. The University Library is also an important resource that is now investing heavily in digitisation.

“We assume great national responsibility for research infrastructure, but many find it difficult to see how extensive it is and to fully appreciate what is being done. I want to commend everyone who works on this,” says Åkesson.

At this point in the interview, we arrive at something important that has not yet been mentioned but that has played an important, even fundamental, role from day one of their vice-chancellorship: Quality assurance and enhancement.

“We wanted to create a larger systematic approach to how we work with quality of education. Basically, continuous work with improvements is a local activity, but we have also introduced a system at the Faculty and University level so that it is coherent. We feel very good about it, especially now that our system is being tested in an evaluation by the Swedish Higher Education Authority,” says Malmberg.

For the same reason, regular research evaluations are being conducted as a way to develop research and work more systematically with quality and renewal. In this case, external reviewers participate at various universities around the world.

The most recent evaluation took place in 2017. When Anders Malmberg then headed the work with Mission, Goals and Strategies, he used the conclusions from this evaluation extensively.

“Although Q&R17 (Quality and Renewal 2017) was a research evaluation, interestingly enough, it also provided a lot of insights that had to do with education. Seeing the way prominent foreign academics look at how research and education relate to each other at Uppsala University was an eye-opener.”

Mission, Goals and Strategies were established in December 2019, and a lot of work currently under way at the three disciplinary domains explores how to implement them in practice – an effort that will continue this spring.

“This is our baton that we are passing on to the next management team. Much has been included in the goals and strategies – important issues such as internationalisation and quality, but also areas for development that have been pointed out,” says Åkesson.

She has spent a total of 18 years in University Management, the first nine as Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor at Lund University. Anders Malmberg has also had part-time or full-time management assignments for the past 15 years.

After New Year’s Day, new assignments await both of them.

“I have been on leave from Lund University during these periods, so I will return to my position and move south,” says Åkesson.

“I will move back to my office at Ekonomikum and become a professor of economic geography. That is a bit challenging because it has been a while since I was a fully active professor. There will be some assignments, too. I have also just become chair of Riksbankens Jubileumsfond’s board,” says Malmberg.

Eva Åkesson does not want to spend much time talking about what happens next (“we will take that up after New Year’s Day”) but notes that it feels good to move on.

“It is also great fun to pass the baton to Coco and Anders. We have a good rapport. I’ve been discussing things with Anders since June. Initially it was maybe once a month, and now it is at least once a week. We discuss the decisions that I am making now in December thoroughly, because he is the one who has to handle them later.”

She compares the handover to changing the baton during a race, where it is important to not let go of the stick too soon (if it falls to the ground, we lose a lot of tempo) and to not hold on too long.

“That is a good image, I think. Help the incoming people get up to speed, but once they grasp the stick, let go, and do not try to hang on. We will leave the track and move to the stands as enthusiastic spectators and cheer on the new leadership.”

Uppsala University’s mission, goals and strategies

Mission, Goals and Strategies is Uppsala University’s most important governance document. It articulates our fundamental values and sets out our direction for the future.

Five strategic priorities to enhance quality and relevance:

  1. Quality assurance and enhancement
  2. Internationalisation
  3. Infrastructure
  4. Talent attraction and career systems
  5. Support and environment

Six development goals to renew education and research:

  1. Expand education and strengthen the connection between education and research
  2. Develop research excellence
  3. Strengthen transdisciplinary and challenge-driven research
  4. Coordinate and concentrate resources
  5. Exploit the potential of Campus Gotland
  6. Develop collaboration


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Last modified: 2022-12-22