Torbjörn von Schantz the Vice-Chancellor blog
International research collaborations and exchanges are extremely important for us to be able to tackle global challenges such as sustainability and climate, as well as those made evident this spring: global health and pandemics.
Researchers all over the world are now trying to find a vaccine and cure for the coronavirus. We are highly dependent on one another’s research results to find the solution and the open, global scientific community is vital for us to be able to make progress in the research.
In these turbulent times, we must work hard to maintain international collaborations. This applies to academia, to politics, to the UN and to NGOs.
In an article in Svenska dagbladet, several colleagues and I have written about the importance of global health collaborations and how dangerous it is for world health if member states financially withdraw from the World Health Organisation (WHO). We do not need fewer international collaborations in the current situation; we need stronger and responsible collaborations.
The pandemic has also proved to be a stress test for EU cooperation. Cohesion, ethical principles and solidarity easily fall to the wayside in favour of the prevention of infections in domestic populations. The risk is that we will see more closed borders in the future and increased nationalism instead of the contrary. This significantly jeopardises our activities in research and education.
International research collaborations are particularly important for a small and open country like Sweden to achieve advances in science and technology. Ninety-nine per cent of global knowledge production takes place outside Sweden and 70 per cent of Swedish research publications are co-authored with at least one researcher at an institution abroad. These days, Swedish researchers also have collaborations with researchers in an increasing number of countries.
Above all, the increase in collaborations occurs with places where there is rapid development of research. Countries with rapid research development include, for example, China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Iran, Qatar and India. Today, China is the largest knowledge-producing country in the world.
In general, the increasing international collaborations contribute to positive development. However, differences between countries are also a source of misunderstanding and conflict. The clearest example is perhaps China, which has emerged as an equal actor to Europe and the USA within research.
We must take into consideration that many of the countries with rapidly growing research have different norms, political structures and academic systems compared to Sweden. In many places, including countries nearby such as Hungary and Turkey, academic freedom is being restricted.
In collaboration with the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT), the KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Karolinska Institutet, Lund University has produced written guidelines aimed at university managements, researchers and university support organisations. It encourages increased reflection on ethics, institutional autonomy, cultural, political and legal contexts and relationship building.
A longer opinion piece was published in Universitetsläraren in light of the recent launch of these guidelines, see the article in Swedish.
As a next step, a national course with a focus on responsible internationalisation is to be developed to strengthen the expertise at Swedish higher education institutions.
I will therefore conclude by reiterating: the world needs strong and responsible international collaborations to be able to solve the global challenges. Sweden needs to ensure that both student exchanges and research collaborations remain strong, even after the coronavirus pandemic.
Torbjörn von Schantz, vice-chancellor
Together, albeit from a distance, we are strong
The question is if it is even possible or desirable to write about anything other than the consequences of the current spread of the coronavirus. Many questions and opinions have already been presented and raised in public debate; I do not need to repeat them all here. However, the capacity of our national healthcare, the global economy, closed borders and the changes in people’s studies, work and private lives affect us deeply, raising the existential questions about life, meaning and death.
Published 26 March
Last week, the advice came from the Swedish government that higher education institutions were recommended to switch to distance education. We all have a responsibility, at the organisational and individual levels, to lend a hand in the strategy that the government assesses to be most suitable.
All of the organisations and staff at the University are doing an outstanding job in transitioning to distance education. I am in no way saying it is easy and some nuts are harder to crack than others. All teaching is not easy, or perhaps even possible, to carry out remotely, such as in study programmes at the Faculty of Fine and Performing Arts or in science and engineering laboratories.
However, in meetings I have had with deans, staff and students, I have seen great determination, wisdom and creativity to find the best solutions and to ensure the quality of the activities under the current circumstances. In addition, several faculties have already come a very long way with regard to distance education and digitisation.
In other good news, the Faculty of Medicine has reached an agreement with Region Skåne for students to be able to be employed in healthcare. Faculty staff who are clinically active are also to be made available to the healthcare sector.
I am also aware of initiatives to produce hand sanitiser or to gather materials for healthcare as well as work groups organising coffee breaks with their colleagues online or setting up film studios for thesis defences. Big and small ideas – all good solutions are welcome!
The aim for the University is to get through this coming period and to later be able to state that our healthcare was successful in handling the patients who required care. In the meantime, we will safeguard our own organisation by ensuring functioning education, even in these special circumstances.
We will also support other actors in society in every way we can. For example, we are soon launching a contract education initiative – here, the University can make a real difference for society in times of change – and I will revisit this initiative soon.
Naturally, we will also ensure that all the knowledge that exists at a university is put to good use, through researchers sharing their expertise within their specialist areas – from economics to elderly care, yes, within all areas within this broad University.
Lund University is an international university. The fact that we are now seeing borders closing and a reduction in mobility has an obvious impact on our organisation and collaborations. Society and research are dependent on global collaborations to be able to solve the significant societal problems.
Closed borders and a reduced freedom of movement also affects all our international staff and students in particular – those who are a long way from their family and friends. Many people in this country and at Lund University do not have a Swedish background or Swedish citizenship. They need special consideration!
The University’s general information on how it is handling the coronavirus can be found on the Staff Pages. In recent weeks, we have observed that government directives or new external factors can quickly change the situation. Therefore, it is important to keep up to date on any developments.
Finally, a big thank you for all the creativity, good ideas and hard work and for the solidarity I am seeing! We are a strong university with the capacity to manage the transition that we are carrying out and that is thanks to all the positive contributions. Together, albeit from a distance, we are strong!
Torbjörn von Schantz, Vice-Chancellor
The University is not an isolated island in society
Published 17 March
Lund University is not an isolated island in society, but a part of it. Regarding the spread of infection, the same restrictions apply here as in the rest of society and it is therefore important that each one of us keeps updated on information and recommendations issued by the Swedish Public Health Agency and the regional authority. All students and staff can find all relevant information about how Lund University is managing the coronavirus situation. It is important to keep updated via the Staff Pages' Corona information, as there will be frequent decisions.
It is important that education and research can continue to be conducted. The University Management advise academic units to switch to online alternatives where it is possible to retain quality. The chosen solution will differ between units, as they are very different. It is also important to bear in mind that all programmes and courses will have diffilculties to be provided online.
I presuppose that all students and staff take their responsibility as citizens and stay home from work and studies if you have a respiratory infection, even if the symptoms are mild, and maintain good hand hygiene. Those who can work or study from home are encouraged to do so, however, I am aware that for many this is not possible. It is important to remember that the campus, as well as our units, remains open, even if the education switch to to online alternatives.
I am certain that together, with the help of appropriate public authority decisions and by taking our responsibility as citizens, we can make it through this crisis. Nobody can know the final result, but the aim must be that we get through the coming period and afterwards are able to observe that the healthcare services managed to treat the patients who needed medical care.
I am aware that all types of issue arise in this situation. We are working on these continuously and announcing necessary decisions as they are made.
Torbjörn von Schantz, Vice-Chancellor