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Competitive intelligence: the increasing difficulty of being a university

The University finds itself in a time of paradoxes. At the same time as the EU, via its framework programmes, works for openness and mobility for researchers and students, there are increasing nationalistic and protectionist trends. In addition, the trust and hope that society has in research as a solution for global challenges is being unsettled by the spread of knowledge relativism.

This is the situation outlined in LU’s new competitive intelligence report, which was on the agenda at the University Board’s latest meeting. The 57-­page report was produced by the Planning Office in cooperation with others including LU’s Risk Management Committee and the Research, Research Programmes and Education boards.

In addition to the paradoxes, the University has never faced such a highly competitive situation as the present one. This applies not only to grants, researchers and students – but also in relation to other education providers. There is an increasing number of organisations outside academia that now offer post-upper secondary school education and higher education. This is aimed either at young people or as a part of lifelong learning – often online. LU must therefore carefully monitor how the University’s knowledge is used, managed and valued by other parts of society, as well as how we develop our education.

Lifelong learning

Regarding lifelong learning, the competitive intelligence report addresses the issue of who is to fund it – the state, the employer or the individual? Commissioned education is an important instrument for the renewal of first and second-cycle education and is therefore a quality issue. However, today’s resource allocation system does not favour courses and programmes aimed at lifelong learning, as the completion rate for this type of education is often low. Streamlined institutions also find it difficult to find staff for both their regular education and commissioned education.

A changing labour market

Another challenge is the rapidly changing labour market, which requires adjustments within all sectors and consequently makes the University’s educational mission more difficult. Uncertainty about the type of skills that will be in demand in the future means that the design of tomorrow’s education will be increasingly precarious. Introducing study opportunities based on the “liberal arts” model, in which students can study at different faculties in order to broaden their education, is one way to prepare the students in a fast-changing world. Through this, companies and organisations in health care and technology, for example, would get a workforce with a broad analytical base that understands both technology and the human element.

Top 100

Ranking is also something the University must address. LU has for many years been ranked among the world’s top 100 universities in international rankings. In view of the competition, not least from Asian universities, there is a risk that LU, like other Swedish universities, will disappear from the rankings. These rankings will probably continue to play an important role for prospective students and researchers, as there are no alternative international methods for measuring the quality of a higher education institution at present.

However, what a university cannot afford, if it wishes to keep its reputation, are scandals such as the Macchiarini affair and other irregularities, hence the increase in external scrutiny in these areas and changes in the rules and regulations regarding research misconduct.

Increasing demands

The competitive intelligence report expects that demands on Lund University – from politicians, staff and students – will continue to increase, in terms of sustainable solutions for everything from the climate to gender equality and equal opportunities. Young people will want to study at a higher education institution that makes an impact in these areas.

Mental ill-health

Mental ill-health among young people, not least students and doctoral students, is also a concern and it is difficult to find simple explanations for this. The University’s Students’­ Unions have also noticed that it is increasingly hard to find students who want to be engaged in union politics and those who are involved in student nation work and suchlike are burdened by a heavy workload and in some cases, stress. It is important that the University keeps a close eye on this trend, as it jeopardises student influence, which is significant for the University’s capability to develop in pace with its times.

Long-term funding

Other important factors are ensuring the long-term funding of MAX IV and that the University’s researchers actively contribute to the transition to open science – i.e. publishing via open access.

Centrally, the University needs to make more strategic and conscious decisions at all levels regarding which international collaborations are to be initiated and maintained. This applies, not least, to collaborations with countries that do not share the University’s values regarding academic freedom, democracy or human rights. China, for example, is currently the largest knowledge-generating country in the world and has significant collaborations with Swedish higher education institutions including LU.

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